Peter Earnest: Spy Vs. Spy

Jun 24, 2012
Originally published on September 4, 2014 12:38 pm

Founding executive director of Washington D.C.'s Spy Museum, Peter Earnest joins host Ophira Eisenberg on this week's episode of Ask Me Another from the nation's capital. Earnest talks about how his experience as a former C.I.A. agent informed much of what you'll see when you visit the Spy Museum, including crytograms to uncypher and technologically-advanced gadgets to admire.

We put Earnest to the test in an Ask Me Another Challenge that's spy versus, well, a fan of movies about spies. He battles another contestant to see who knows their James Bond villains best, and who can do the best impression of Goldfinger. Plus, the lucky grand prize winner of this week's show receives a private tour of the Spy Museum with none other than Earnest as tour guide.

About Peter Earnest

Peter Earnest is a 35 year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (the C.I.A.). He served in the C.I.A.'s Clandestine Service for more than two decades, primarily in Europe and the Middle East. Earnest is also the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum, where he plays a leading role in its extraordinary success — now in its 9th year and nearing six million visitors. Under Earnest's leadership, the Museum launched the highly successful Spy City Tours and SpyCast, a monthly podcast featuring interviews and programs with ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars.

Mr. Earnest also edits the Museum's book ventures including the popular International Spy Museum Handbook to Practical Spying and Declassified: 50 Top Secret Documents that Changed History. He co-authored The Real Spy's Guide to becoming a Spy for young adults and Business Confidential, a management manual based on CIA practices. He lives in McLean, Virginia.

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Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm your host Ophira Eisenberg. And with me is our mystery guest, former spy and current Executive Director of the International Spy Museum, Peter Earnest.


EISENBERG: Welcome Peter.

So, off the top, I just have to say Peter Earnest is the best spy name I have heard, like that is such a - you know, 'cause it sounds so wholesome and on top of it. So is that something you picked, or did the CIA give that to you?

PETER EARNEST: No, actually it's a cheese. No, I - No, I-



JONATHAN COULTON: Well played, my friend, well played.

EARNEST: No, I got that one, yeah, when I was born, sure.

EISENBERG: So you've worked in the CIA for 35 years?


EISENBERG: Is that correct?


EISENBERG: So in that time you also had to recruit new spies.


EISENBERG: So could I be a spy? Like is it something - is it your - are you born with the skills to be a spy, or is it something anyone can learn?

EARNEST: Oh, I think anyone can learn.



EISENBERG: Like as a Canadian can I learn it?

EARNEST: Oh, absolutely.

EISENBERG: Even if I apologize all the time.

EARNEST: Particularly as a Canadian.

EISENBERG: Particularly as a Canadian.

EARNEST: Oh sure, yeah.


EARNEST: Well because you live in a country that is - can move around very easily, who's going to suspect Canadians?

EISENBERG: That's true, that's true.

EARNEST: You know, you go someone's American, you're an American. Yes. But Canadian, beautiful.

EISENBERG: That's funny that you think this is a game show.

EARNEST: Sure, yeah.


EISENBERG: At the Spy Museum, you give tours to celebrities. Who has come to the Spy Museum?

EARNEST: Most - Well Tom Hanks came, of course.


EARNEST: And Bon Jovi.


EARNEST: Oh yes, sure.

EISENBERG: How as that?

EARNEST: Brought his two little boys with him.


EARNEST: I took the President through and Michelle with their two little girls. They were great. The most recent visitor was Annie Leibovitz, who's doing an exhibit here at the Portrait Gallery.

EISENBERG: And is there something on the celebrity tour that is different from the regular person tour? Like do they get to try on the jacket with the camera button on it? Or go into a secret room?

EARNEST: No, it's about the same. When I take a celebrity through, I talk.



EISENBERG: Otherwise...

EARNEST: No, otherwise I just take them through, yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah, you don't want to talk to other people, really. Yeah, it's ridiculous.

EARNEST: They don't see stock and they can read the captions and everything. With celebrities, I, you know - I'll talk it out.

EISENBERG: You'll talk it out. You - so you give them like - it's like the red carpet tour. Right, OK. So I was - You know, when people have friends that are doctors, they want free advice, or lawyers they want free advice, as a former spy what do your friends ask you for free spy advice?

EARNEST: Oh sure, yes. If somebody, you know, if a friend wants me to sort of monitor, you know, what his wife's up to, or that sort of thing, I mean that - you know, sort of - it's the sort of thing I could do, yeah.



EISENBERG: All right, what's your setup?

EARNEST: What's my setup?

EISENBERG: Yeah, I don't know if that's what the exact terminology is, but...

EARNEST: Well I think you'd... Yes. Yes.

EISENBERG: know, spy to spy, I'm just asking you how do you go about this?

EARNEST: Be very careful, yeah.

EISENBERG: Be very careful. Are - do you have access to certain websites that maybe the rest of us don't?

EARNEST: No, I can barely use my computer, so that doesn't, you know...


EISENBERG: So you're more of a hands-on spy.

EARNEST: Yes, yeah.

EISENBERG: OK. So surveillance, you could do surveillance. It's good to know.

EARNEST: I do surveillance, sure.

EISENBERG: OK. For friends' wives.


EISENBERG: Oh OK, good to know. All right, so in your book "The Real Spy Guide To Becoming A Real Spy", you talk about the number one, number two, number three myths of being a spy. So let's talk about one of the most important ones. Is it true that spies don't really like their drinks shaken or stirred? I mean how do you like your drink, shaken or stirred?

EARNEST: I prefer one after another. I mean they bought me one here, but they haven't brought me another one.

EISENBERG: So it's really just quantity.

EARNEST: It can be shaken or stirred, I don't mind.

EISENBERG: You don't mind. You're easy. You're just like bring me what you got.

EARNEST: I'm easy, yes.

EISENBERG: All right, that might be a little of a hint as to what our game is about that we're about to play. So I'd like to ask you right now, are you ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge? Would you like to do a trivia show with us?

EARNEST: Absolutely, yeah, yes.

EISENBERG: All right. All right, let's do it. Peter Earnest, everybody.



EISENBERG: Peter, believe it or not, we found someone brave enough to match wits with you. Let's meet Josh Saltzman everybody.


EISENBERG: Or as I will be calling you, Agent Saltzman.

JOSH SALTZMAN: Brave enough might be generous, stupid enough might be the better term for it.

EISENBERG: Hey, as I - as it turns out that is a great quality in a spy. You just got to go with it, just go with it. So Josh, you have a lunch truck business?

SALTZMAN: I do. I am one of the owners of the PORC, Purveyors Of Rolling Cuisine truck in DC here.


EISENBERG: Yeah. Is that your spy vehicle then, that is your spy vehicle?

SALTZMAN: It is. We run lots of espionage out of that vehicle.


EISENBERG: And is there meat products, pork?

SALTZMAN: We also offer barbecue but, you know, that's really a side business, you know.

EISENBERG: Delicious. All right, well that's going to come in handy with our game here. I need to ask you right now, Josh, who is your favorite Bond?

SALTZMAN: I mean, you know, it's hard to go against Sean Connery.

EISENBERG: Yeah? Yeah, that's...

SALTZMAN: Got to go with him.

EISENBERG: Peter, favorite bond?

EARNEST: Yes, Sean Connery.

EISENBERG: Sean Connery?

SALTZMAN: Well he's copied my answer.


EISENBERG: He listens, he's good.

COULTON: He's trying to blend in, he's trying to blend in. I agree Connery's the best.


COULTON: Yeah. He's a man's man. He's suave. I don't like the way he slaps the ladies around.


COULTON: I don't appreciate that very much.

EISENBERG: No, no, it's not - Yeah, I like - I have to say I am a fan of Daniel Craig, particularly when he's coming out of the ocean.


EISENBERG: That was my favorite, favorite part. OK, anyways, this quiz is obviously about the hunkiest spy with a license to kill, James Bond. We're going to ask you questions about the books, the movies, everything. Are you ready?




EISENBERG: Do you want to do it anyway?

SALTZMAN: Yeah, why not?

EISENBERG: OK, great, great, great. In the novel "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," Bond learns that he is a possible descendant of Sir Thomas Bond. What Bond film gets its title from Sir Thomas Bond's family motto, Orbis non sufficit? What Bond film gets its title from Sir Thomas Bond's (bell ringing) family motto?

SALTZMAN: "The World Is Not Enough"?

EISENBERG: "The World Is Not Enough." Correct, Josh.


EISENBERG: Our next clue is an audio clue. In this classic scene, Bond is tied to a slab of gold, while a laser beam comes very close to cutting him in two. Jonathan, would you like to lead us in some dialogue?

COULTON: Yeah, so finish this line. "Do you expect me to talk?" (bell ringing)



SALTZMAN: Mr Goldfinger.


EISENBERG: You're right, it is.

COULTON: Let me set it up differently. So this - I'm going to say something that James Bond says and then...


EISENBERG: Oh yeah, I guess maybe...

COULTON: Goldfinger responds.

SALTZMAN: Oh Goldfinger responds. Well come on!

EISENBERG: OK, you know what? This is my fault. You're right.

SALTZMAN: No, I expect you to die. No?

EISENBERG: No, I expect you to die is correct.


SALTZMAN: Though he didn't say it like Sean Connery, but you know.

EISENBERG: Let's hear some - reap the rewards of this.


JAMES BOND: Do you expect me to talk?

GOLDFINGER: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.


COULTON: He was very jolly, very jolly nemesis.

EISENBERG: Ever evil person always has to laugh like that. It's hilarious for me.

COULTON: But it's funny. It's funny when you're [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

EISENBERG: OK. Moving along. In the movies, Bond is often battling the international crime organization known as SPECTRE. In the early Ian Fleming novels, however, Bond's arch-nemesis is named after what real life Soviet counter intelligent agency? (bell ringing) Peter.




EISENBERG: At the beginning of "The Man with the Golden Gun," Bond doesn't know much about the international hit man, Francisco Scaramanga, except for that he has an unusual physical feature. What is it?

COULTON: It is not a golden gun, that is not-.


EISENBERG: Contestants? Not sure? (bell ringing) Josh.

SALTZMAN: He has a golden hand.

EISENBERG: That is a great idea, but he does not have a golden hand. Let's throw it to the audience. Yes.


EISENBERG: He has a third nipple, that is correct.


SALTZMAN: That was my next response.

EISENBERG: Yeah, it's all - yeah. It doubles as a gadget, did you know that, the third nipple. Takes photos, is a grappling hook, all kinds of cool things.

EARNEST: I'm glad I didn't know the answer to that one.


EISENBERG: Yeah, I know. Now you have to live with the visual forever.

In the movie "Diamonds Are Forever," Bond gets beaten up by two female bodyguards with what Disney-inspired names? Peter looks at me.

EARNEST: What are their names?

EISENBERG: Yeah, what are their names? Their Disney-inspired names.

EARNEST: Cop and Thump, something like that.

EISENBERG: That is - you're on the right track.

EARNEST: The two women?

EISENBERG: The two women, the bodyguards.

COULTON: The sexy women who beat him up. You know, like when you're a spy.

EISENBERG: They always are.

EARNEST: No, I do, I remember them.



EISENBERG: Thumper and Crump, something like that, very close.

Thumper, he - you're going to get half for that.

SALTZMAN: I have no idea.

EISENBERG: Josh, no idea. All right. Bambi and Thumper. Bambi and Thumper, yes.

EARNEST: I got half credit.

EISENBERG: Yes, you got half credit, if we did that.


EISENBERG: James Bond films have long been known for their theme songs, but the only one to reach number one on the U.S. Billboard charts was from 1985's "A View to a Kill." Let's take a listen.


COULTON: The most boring Bond theme ever.


EISENBERG: It does sound every eighties spy that, right?

EARNEST: Sure, yes.

EISENBERG: All right, so the question is that theme was sung by what band?

SALTZMAN: A bad one.

EISENBERG: All right, matter of taste, matter of taste.

COULTON: Can you be more specific?

EISENBERG: Some of the answers...

SALTZMAN: I can't actually.

EISENBERG: Peter. No, no. Josh, no? Audience? Does - OK, see someone waving their hand at the back. Go ahead.

AUDIENCE MEMBER #7: Duran Duran.

EISENBERG: Duran Duran is correct. Duran Duran.



AUDIENCE MEMBER #7: My mother told me that one.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Let's admit you're a fan. It's OK. It's all right. Ian Fleming had a lot of ideas for the film versions of his novels. In particular, what good friend and famous playwright did Fleming want to play Dr. No? (bell ringing) Peter.

EARNEST: Noel Coward.

EISENBERG: Noel Coward is correct.


COULTON: And we have a tie score.


COULTON: So I'm going to give you a tiebreaker here. The 2002 film "Die Another Day" marked the first time the performer of a Bond film's theme song also had an acting role in the film, playing a fencing instructor named Verity. (bell ringing) Who was it? Yes, Josh.

EARNEST: Madonna.

COULTON: You are correct.

EISENBERG: Madonna's correct.


EISENBERG: All right. Josh, you have won this round. And because you are the winner, you get a copy of Peter Earnest's book "The Real Spy's Guide To Becoming A Real Spy".


EISENBERG: And Peter, we have for you an amazing NPR ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.


EARNEST: Thank you.

EISENBERG: For being fantastic spies. Thank you so much to Peter Earnest. Another hand for fantastic contestant Josh Saltzman.



COULTON: (Singing) It's an amazing smile, even the suit has teeth, everything flash and guile and nothing underneath except a small black heart that no one sees but me. I've been watching. I can see you start to wonder. Could it be that you need me to keep you out, and run you faster. Promise me you'll let me be the one, worst of all your enemies. Pretending you're a friend to me. Say that we'll be nemeses.


EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.