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The Dead Drop


The Dead Letter Drop cover

When I learned that Washington, DC has more ghosts than any other city in the U.S. and more spies than any other city in the world, I knew it was my kind of town.

I decided not to wait around for the ubiquitous high school tour of our nation’s capital; I went to DC on my own, in the middle of an early summer heat wave. My plan: to hone my spying skills at the country’s most fascinating source of information on the history of secret intelligence — The International Spy Museum. Despite my lowly status as a summer intern, I decided I would learn everything I could about surveillance techniques, living undercover, and the art of disguise – all the tradecraft used by professional spies. As a writer, I was intrigued by stories of people — the heroes and traitors who were willing to live double lives.

I admit it: I expected to impress the experts on the Spy Museum staff. After all, who could be better at discovering secrets than a young psychic spy?

In the evenings, I pictured myself dressed like a young Jackie Kennedy, infiltrating the DC dinner-party circuit and cultivating informants at foreign embassy soirees. Every now and then, I would retreat to the powder room to send a secret message or plant a surveillance bug.

Well aware that I was staying in the nation’s “ghost capital,” I fully anticipated investigating apparitions at the White House or haunted statues in the Capitol Building during my off hours.

I should know by now to expect only the unexpected.

I was prepared for the hair-wilting heat of a Washington, DC summer, but not the sickening paranoia — the cold sweat you feel trickling down your back when you’re being shadowed. Who was creating eerie disturbances in the museum? Who was trailing me through the city?

To find the answer, I had to learn what it means to live by some of the “Moscow Rules” of the Cold War spy era.

“Never go against your gut,” say the rules. “Remember — everyone is potentially under opposition control.” And most importantly: “Never look back; you are never completely alone.”

I’ve always trusted my gut. But things become more complicated when you know you’re not the only spy in the room.


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Published May 2009

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