A great holiday gift for the secret squirrel in your life: round trip tickets to Paris, France, and passes to the Hôtel National des Invalides, the National Residence of the Invalids.

The Invalides, as it’s called, isn’t a hotel in the American sense of the word. It was built in the late 17th century to attend to France’s aging and injured war veterans. It was one of several models, by the way, on which we based our country’s own post-Civil War Veterans’ National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, the first of which opened in Togus, Maine, 150 years ago this past November.

Today, The Invalides is a museum preserving important artifacts related to France’s military history . . . including Napolean’s tomb. The Invalides houses “Secret Wars,” an exhibition displaying a collection and the stories behind spyware from France, Great Britain, Germany, and the United States.


Spying and espionage is what October’s Agence nationale de la sécurité des systèmes d’information (ANSSI), or National Cybersecurity Agency of France, cybersecurity conference was about. The conference took place in the facility right beside The Invalides. Established in 2009, France’s ANSSI is about shoring up France’s more vulnerable and not-so-state-of-the-art industry and government IT systems to protect them from the kind of hacktivity that’s roiled the United States from Hollywood to The Hill the last few years.

So “French security officials, sobered by the destabilizing effect that computer hacking and email leaks had on the U.S. election,” the Associate Press reported, “have taken the unprecedented step of allowing government cyber-snoops share their expertise with political parties.” Our world wide web means spying and espionage can evolve into more and more impersonal operations launched from the relative safety of distant dens of hackers.


In stark contrast to more contemporary spying and espionage activities is the “Secret Wars” exhibition. Secret Wars tells the stories of clandestine operations that were face-to-face and very, very personal. “Lipstick pistols, poison pens, explosive rats,” writes Sylvie Corbet, “a new Paris exhibit reveals real-life spy gadgets and tells the story of how secret agents around the world were recruited, trained and equipped during clandestine missions from World War I to the end of the Cold War.”

On display are stories of the kinds of spies who observed and reported on Adolf Hitler in the early 1920s: “’not an idiot but a very skilled demagogue . . . .’” And while popular fiction would portray classic secret ops in more romantic shades, Corbet writes that Secret Wars “tells the story of men and women who put their lives at risk to gather intelligence and carry out clandestine operations, misinformation and destabilization missions.”

Indeed, the kind of heroic spies “Secret Wars” tells about are the likes of Mike Spann, the first American to die in the ongoing war in Afghanistan, whose star is displayed among some 117 others on the CIA’s Memorial Wall. It was only last May when Director Brennan added four more names of Cold War CIA warriors who died on missions in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s not so ancient history.

“Secret Wars” will remain on display until the end of January. So if you happen to be roaming around Paris this Christmas, a visit to The Invalides is order.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.