A Frank and Open Discussion about the Secret World of Spying

Feb 22, 2024  | 6pm ET

Lecture at GHI Washington | Speaker: Alexis Albion (International Spy Museum)

2024 Spring Lecture Series: Knowledge in the Shadows: Intelligence, Hidden Pasts, and Historians in the U.S. and Germany

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Please join us for the first lecture in our Spring 2024 series focusing on intelligence history. Most of us are not privy to classified intelligence estimates, nor do we take part in clandestine operations around the world. This does not mean, however, that we are unfamiliar with what secret intelligence agencies do or what kinds of lives secret agents lead. Indeed, for more than a century there has been a public fascination with the private mysteries of the shadow world, fed by a myriad of sources—from popular culture to investigative journalism, and from official histories to museum exhibits. Despite the secrecy that defines intelligence activities (or, one might argue, because of it), there is a public image of intelligence, perhaps derived from imagination more than reality, but which nonetheless shapes opinions, beliefs, and expectations about that same reality.

Exploring this public image of intelligence offers a fascinating window onto how ordinary men and women have made sense of the contemporary world. By watching, reading, writing, and brazenly talking about “spies” and “spying,” the public has engaged in conversations about national security, morality, and identity; the role of the ordinary citizen in international politics; and the balance between state authority and individual agency. Intelligence historians should take note of the social alongside the political and military impact of intelligence activities, and for the influence of spying at the popular and not just the policy level.

The lecture will begin promptly at 6:30pm ET. A light reception will precede the talk from 6:00pm to 6:30pm ET.

About the Lecture Series

Knowledge in the Shadows: Intelligence, Hidden Pasts, and Historians in the U.S. and Germany

With the 2024 spring lecture series at the German Historical Institute Washington, we cordially invite you on a journey through the captivating research field of “Intelligence History.” Featuring leading scholars in the field, our four lectures offer insights into the covert realm of classified information, clandestine knowledge, and power dynamics and the role these have played in the history of the Americas and Germany in the Twentieth Century. To what extent have secret agencies and their practices of gathering information influenced international politics and the course of history? On the home front, how have the delicate relationships between secrecy and democracy evolved over time, evident in public debates and the treatment of individuals today known as “whistleblowers”? The lectures delve into these questions, shedding light on the intricate interplay between secrecy, democracy, and their impact on society. Furthermore, the lectures address the meta-level of research, highlighting the epistemological challenges faced by intelligence historians. How do scholars navigate inaccessible archives and information? What innovative perspectives, (digital) methods and data-driven approaches promise new insights into the world of secret services and declassified files? These inquiries form the cornerstone of our lectures, exploring new horizons in intelligence history. All lectures will be recorded and made available for viewing.

Organized by Jana Keck and Carolin Liebisch-Gümüş (GHI Washington) in cooperation with the International Intelligence History Association, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, German Association for American Studies, and International Spy Museum

A Frank and Open Discussion about the Secret World of Spying February 22, 2024 | 6pm ET
Alexis Albion (International Spy Museum)

From Abundant Papers to Limited Pixels: Digitization and Intelligence Reduction in the Brazilian Serviço Nacional de Informações (SNI) in the late 1970s March 21, 2024 | 6pm ET
Debora Gerstenberger (University of Cologne)

Spy vs. Spy: West German Counterintelligence and GDR Espionage April 18, 2024 | 6pm ET
Michael Wala (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

The History and Future of State Secrecy May 23, 2024 | 6pm ET
Matthew Connelly (Columbia University)

About the Speaker

Dr. Alexis Albion most recently served as Curator at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. During the museum’s move to a new location, she was responsible for developing all new content for its permanent exhibits. Previously, she worked in the President’s Office at the World Bank Group and in the Office of Counterterrorism at the US State Department. She served on the staff of the 9/11 Commission, where she investigated and analyzed US counterterrorism policy and was a key drafter of the final report. She has an AB from Princeton University and a PhD from Harvard University in International History.