TODAY

TODAY   |  July 25, 2013

Take a covert peek inside the CIA museum

NBC’s Richard Engel gets a tour of the greatest museum you will never see: the CIA museum, where items like Osama bin Laden’s personal AK-47 rifle and some of the agency’s most high-tech gadgetry are on display.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 7:41 with a museum that's full of history and some really rare items. it's a fascinating place that the public will never be allowed in. lucky for us, nbc's richard engel somehow finagled a rare tour.

>> this is the museum inside cia headquarters. it's a collection of their artifacts, their gadgetry, the tools of the trade , decades worth of items that cia officers used for covert action and espionage. it's the stuff of movies.

>> think it got shredded before they got in.

>> reporter: but to actually walk the halls of the central intelligence agency is to see the relics of real life drama, part of a safe retrieved from the world trade center after 9/11, the mock-up of osama bin laden 's compound.

>> the original model was used to brief the policy makers, to brief the president. and the assault team used it to plan their raid.

>> reporter: it's all on display in the greatest museum you'll never see.

>> this is the rifle that was recovered from the third floor of the obama compound by the team.

>> reporter: that's osama bin laden 's personal ak-47 showed to us for the first time. how did it end up from there in pakistan to here at the cia headquarters?

>> director panetta asked that it come into the museum collection . so we're very fortunate to have it.

>> reporter: you've seen the movie zero dark thirty ?

>> yes, i have.

>> reporter: is that about right? one of the navy s.e.a.l.s picked it up and brought it out.

>> i can't confirm or deny exactly where the weapon was. i just know that i have it in my museum , and i'm happy to have it.

>> reporter: from the beginning, the cia has invented all kinds of gadgetry, like the microdot camera.

>> take about 11 shots with a disk, reducing a full page of text to an image that's less than 1 millimeter by 1 millimeter .

>> reporter: a pipe that silently receives a radio broadcast , and then the insect-o-copter.

>> it's an unmanned aerial vehicle.

>> reporter: it's a drone?

>> it's a 40-year-old drone.

>> reporter: you have a fascinating collection . it is american history . why isn't it open to the public?

>> because the museum is here at headquarters. that's the main reason. we have officers undercover.

>> reporter: and for the officers and employees who walk these halls, every object, the compasses and buttons, the coins with a secret compartment, and the camera carrying pigeon tells a story. what i want to know is what don't you have on display? is there a warehouse or a basement here where you keep the overflow, the things that don't get put in the boxes?

>> we have a collection that is over 16,000 pieces right now cataloged. imagine that last shot of raiders of the lost ark with the ark going into the government warehouse . we're like that.

>> now, each one of these items could be its own story. you saw that little microdot camera.

>> yes.

>> this is the way it works. you take that little camera, and you mount it above a document, a photograph, whatever you want , blueprints, whatever it is you want to photograph. it takes the image. it reduces it to the size of a typed period. so it looks like a tiny little black dot. then the cia officer would use a razor blade , scrape off a typed period from a letter that he was mailing, glue that tiny black dot that actually is a document reduced in size, mail it, nobody would ever see it. and then on the other end, you would use a magnifying glass , and it would blow it up, and you could read it. it was a way of communicating in secret before all the encrypted type of technology.

>> i honestly thought that stuff was only in the movies.

>> no, it's not. the pipe, the way it worked is there's a little transmitter in the bowl of the pipe. so someone would bite down on the pipe as if they were chewing a pipe, and then the transmission would run down the stem of the pipe through the jawbone, and play in the small bones in your ear so you could actually hear the transmission silently while it looks like you just have the pipe in your mouth.

>> richard, it's a fascinating story. thank you for giving us a look at this incredibly rich --

>> i have something from the museum . this is a t-shirt from the museum staff. it says cia museum on the front. on the back, their logo. the best museum you've never seen.

>> classic. i would have also taken the dragonfly camera, just saying. richard, thank you so much. fascinating story.