They’ve been following her from the National Portrait Gallery for more than an hour and know she is planning to meet with someone after they found chalk marks,a known signal,on a bench earlier in the night.
Team leader Eric O’Neill calls out over his radio for someone to get a picture of the handoff of stolen scientific material to a foreign intelligence agent.
“All units,watch for an exchange,” O’Neill said. “Who has the eye? There’s an envelope in her hand.”
No,this isn’t a scene from a summer spy movie. Instead,O’Neill is leading a “Surveillance 101” workshop for the International Spy Museum.
O’Neill is a former investigative specialist with the FBI’s Special Surveillance Group.
In 2001,he helped to catch FBI Agent Robert Hanssen,who spied for the former Soviet Union and Russia,by going undercover as Hanssen’s assistant. This assignment was the subject of the film “Breach,” in which actor Ryan Phillippe portrayed O’Neill.
O’Neill is a founder of the Georgetown Group,an investigative and security services firm.
This was the third time O’Neill has taught the workshop.
“It’s fun. I like the Spy Museum. I enjoy working with them,” O’Neill said. “It’s exciting to see people try surveillance for the first time and get it.”
The class began with a quick lecture at the Spy Museum on basic surveillance terminology. O’Neill discussed who works surveillance,including law enforcement and moms.
Then the class split up into teams of two and began their mission,all under the watchful eye of team leader O’Neill.
Fran Holuba,24,a White House employee,and her boyfriend Joseph Ambrose,34,head bartender at the W Hotel,were one of the teams.
“It was one of those things that it was playful enough that we could all have fun and be laughing,but it was also kind of nerve racking,” Holuba said. “I had a lot of anticipation and there’s adrenaline rushing while you’re walking around. It was good.”
The teams got their evidence,photos of museum employees playing spies.
Participants in the class didn’t walk away as experts in surveillance. The workshop was more for “familiarization,” Peter Earnest,the museum’s executive director,said.
O’Neill said he hoped the participants learned to be more conscious of their surroundings.
“It’s a way to way to protect yourself,but it’s also a way to be aware of what’s happening around you,” O’Neill said.
The class cost $94. It was limited to 10 participants to give the participants a fun and intimate experience,Amanda Ohlke,the museum’s adult education director,said.
No more surveillance workshops are scheduled,but Ohlke said the museum will schedule more and will make arrangements for groups.
“We take our mission seriously to educate the public about espionage,and in a broader sense,intelligence,” Earnest said. “And you can only achieve so much with artifacts and exhibits,so we have a very rich menu of programs that we do.”
Reach reporter Chris Jessen at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.