New York is a city of secrets, a magnet for clandestine meetings, foreign intrigue, UN spies, and promises made and broken.
Mystery lurks around every corner so pack a trench coat, your phone jammer, and a Faraday bag for this day trip to the city that never sleeps.
SPYSCAPE's HQ is the ideal rendezvous point for a day of espionage. Crack a code, test your lying and lie-detection skills, build your spy profile, and discover the secrets behind 007 in New York's first James Bond exhibition. Your personalized SPYSCAPE spy profile will be emailed to you later so it's time to head into the city and explore the shadowy corners of New York.
Russian honey trap spy Anna Chapman liked to conduct business in Manhattan’s coffee shops, contacting her Russian handler on her laptop. She apparently preferred the Starbucks just blocks from SPYSCAPE on 8th Ave at West 47th St. Slip into the last seat by the window, her favorite, to plan the rest of your day.
It is a short stroll over to 7th Ave and 42nd St, where German spy Erich Gimpel was captured in 1944. Gimpel planned to spend his money and time trolling bars and eavesdropping on loose-lipped servicemen but his mission failed. One of Gimpel’s American colleagues confessed to the FBI and Gimpel was arrested while browsing at his favorite newsstand on 7th Avenue.
While in the neighborhood, you may also want to drop by the New York Bar Association on 44th Street in Manhattan, the law office where James B. Donovan works in the iconic Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies.
NYC’s history of spies
British forces occupied New York in 1776 during the American Revolution, so you may want to read up on the Culper Spy Ring before heading south to City Hall Park in lower Manhattan where the Sons of the Revolution erected a statue commemorating Nathan Hale. Hale was one of George Washington’s spies, killed in September 1776. He is credited with uttering the famous last words: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
While there, why not tour NYC’s secret underground? In 1904, the Old City Hall subway station was decorated with chandeliers and vaulted tile ceilings by master artisan Rafael Guastavino. The station isn’t used by passengers so book in advance for a sneak peek.
You’ll find ferries at the south end of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. The statue is a tourist magnet but visitors are prohibited from climbing Lady Liberty’s right arm to the torch’s observation platform because of a German plot to destroy US munitions manufactured for WWI Allies. On July 30, 1916, Germans attacked a plant on Black Tom Island, detonating two million pounds of munitions and hitting Lady Liberty with debris, damaging her skirt and right arm. Five people died. A court in The Hague found German agents responsible.
City of spies
Spying involves long hours, so it’s time to head to Grand Central Terminal at East 42nd St and Park Ave. You may want to arrange for a brush contact while there, much like the CIA did during the Cold War. Spies exchanged secrets with a quick handoff that was undetectable in the busy rail station.
Alfred Hitchcock filmed North by Northwest in Grand Central, one of history’s most iconic spy films about an NYC advertising exec mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. Hitchcock is not the only director to find inspiration from the grand building. The Taking of Pelham 123; The French Connection; Men in Black; and Duplicity all used the terminal as a backdrop.
From Grand Central, head over to the East River. There you will find the UN HQ, a notorious base for foreign diplomats and scandals. In 2003, British whistleblower Katharine Gun revealed that the US planned to use dirty tricks to pressure UN Security Council members into supporting the 2003 Iraq War. The UN building is also where - if Edward Snowden is correct - the US National Security Agency bugged its foreign allies and enemies. Take a guided tour, if you dare.
007 fans will recall that the UN building on 46th Street is the site of a murder in the Bond classic Live and Let Die. Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to the Big Apple and tails a lead from the Oh Cult Voodoo Shop on East 65th Street up Fifth Avenue to the Fillet of Soul restaurant. (In real life, the movie crew didn’t make it to Harlem. Instead, they shot the Filet of Soul scenes on the Upper East Side.)
If you’re sure you’re not being followed, head north to 55 East 77th Street at Madison Avenue. Fans of Three Days of the Condor will recognize the 1902 Beaux-Arts house which doubles for the film’s American Literary Historical Society where Joseph Turner’s (Robert Redford’s) CIA colleagues are shot.
The clock is ticking
If there’s still time, Grant’s Tomb beckons. The domed mausoleum is the resting place of former president Ulysses S. Grant. It is also where Soviet military intelligence officer Dmitri Polyakov and the FBI’s John Mabey met at midnight in the 1960s. Polyakov agreed to become a US spy and was given the FBI code name TOPHAT (Top hat).
At this point, unfortunately, it appears you’ve been compromised. Head immediately to JFK Airport, formerly Idlewild Field, where a secret CIA mail-sorting operation was set up in the 1950s (codename HTLINGUAL). The operation carried on for more than 20 years, with CIA agents examining letters addressed to the Soviet Bloc and China.
No loitering though. Your cover is blown. It is time to disappear into the darkness.