December 21, 2000, 12:31 PM — Spooked by a post-Cold War brain drain after bungled missions, intelligence snafus, scandals and strife, the U.S. government's premier spy shop is employing inventive ways to keep its top talent.
Its latest and most novel employee morale-builder is an exhibit at its Langley, Va., headquarters of "spy-fi" gadgetry and memorabilia from TV series and movies, most of them 1960s gems. On view are about 400 items from the private collection of Danny Biederman, a Los Angeles screenwriter and author. Some of these faux tools of the trade are the pen that secret communicator Napoleon Solo used and the cigarette case that concealed a radio in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Emma Peel's leather pants from The Avengers and the watch with a monitor that Tom Cruise wore in Mission: Impossible. Biederman calls Maxwell Smart's shoe phone from Get Smart the exhibit's crown jewel. "It's a quirky item, such a funny piece. The CIA worked very hard to set it off," he says. The famous prop is displayed on crushed purple velvet in a glass case on a pedestal.
The CIA's Fine Arts Commission, whose task is to enhance the working environment, organized the show to appeal to baby boomer agents raised on a prime-time diet of secret agent men and suave operatives. Anya Guilsher, a CIA spokeswoman, says "[The shows] do spark an interest in intelligence work. Some people in the agency have said that they developed an interest in the CIA during their childhood because of these shows." The exhibit runs through the end of the year, but company culture being what it is, it's not open to the public.