The exhibit shows the firing mechanism of the umbrella and offers a detailed explanation of the scandal, which London's Telegraph reported was still being investigated as recently as by detectives trying to establish the identity of the assassin. An even more fascinating exhibit is the huge circular wooden coat of arms presented to the US ambassador to the Soviet Union, Averell Harriman in , which contained a unique listening bug. The NKVD, forerunner to the KGB, learned of Harriman's passion for wooden souvenirs in his biography, and hid a high-powered listening bug invented by a jailed spy, Leon Theremin, in the souvenir, which Harriman hung proudly on the wall above his desk.
Over the next seven years, the US had four ambassadors, each of whom rearranged the furniture but left the coat of arms intact, until radio technicians in accidentally detected the unique radio frequency that the bug operated on.
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Western security services were shocked and embarrassed that they did not pick it up for such a long time. The story gains an added level of interest because of Theremin's later claim to fame as the inventor of a musical instrument, named after him, which is based on radio wave frequencies that make a wailing sound simply by moving your hands above it, without touching anything. Its distinctive echo sound can be heard clearly towards the end of the song. In addition to its extensive collect of artefacts, the museum also offers some fun for visitors.
For example, you can sit in a KGB interrogation chair, which comes with harness restraints that are strapped around your arms and legs. With a bright light shining on your face, you get a pretty good idea of what it is like to be completely helpless in the face of your interrogator.
On your way out to the exit you can also have your photo taken in a Soviet or KGB coat and hat, with a choice of colours and styles — drab green or dull grey, black leather or faux fur. We took a tour with an excellent guide whose thick Russian accent lent a layer of authenticity and intrigue to the riveting array of artefacts and devices.
My wife agreed reluctantly to visit this museum in exchange for shopping time at the nearby Chelsea Market and High Line. But once inside, she like me, loved travelling back in time to the Cold War era and quickly forgot about the modern world outside. See qantas. It is located at West 14th Street, New York.
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