29 September 2023 to 14 April 2024

IWM London

Free Exhibition

"a fascinating look at the tricks, and dangers, of espionage" ★★★★★ 

The Telegraph

"a whole century of espionage, misdirection, subterfuge, camouflage [and] double-dealing" ★★★★

Evening Standard

Over 100 years of intrigue


Please note: This video contains instrumental sound only.

Spies, Lies and Deception is a free, must-see exhibition at IWM London about deception and espionage from the First World War to the present day.

Explore how audacious plots of deception have changed the course of conflict and the lives of those involved. The exhibition showcases over 150 objects, newly digitised film and photography, as well as specially commissioned interviews.

The exhibition will cover the role of deception, the means by which it was uncovered and the costs of being both deceiver and the deceived.


Human stories

Portrait photograph of SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan gazing at the camera
© IWM HU 74868
SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan

In June 1943, Special Operations Executive (SOE) operative Noor Inayat Khan became the first female wireless operator sent into Occupied France. By the time she arrived, many of the agents she was sent to join up with had already been arrested. German Intelligence had taken radios from captured agents and used them to trick SOE HQ into helping them track down more agents. Although Khan successfully transmitted messages to London for four months, she was eventually arrested and executed at Dachau concentration camp.  

Back in London, SOE HQ was responsible for preparing agents for missions and keeping in touch with their families when they were away, often lying about what their loved ones were really doing.

This exhibition invites you to consider the human cost of deception plots. What happens when we are deceived - and who pays the price?


Plotting clandestine operations

IWM Collections image of Ewen Montagu’s private papers
© IWM Documents 026145_E_1
Document from the private papers of Ewen Montagu

Explore some of the most ingenious, surprising and daring plots from the two World Wars, through the height of Cold War espionage to the present day.

Dive into the now famous story of Operation Mincemeat, the audacious Second World War plot. By planting a dead body with fake military documents off the Spanish coast, the operation successfully fooled German High Command about the location of the next major Allied assault. Objects from the operation will illustrate this story of trickery, including mastermind Ewen Montagu’s private papers and his keepsake of a dinghy’s oar from the submarine which deposited the body.  

Uncover the truth

Evidence photograph of the jacket that Rahman asked to be filled with explosives.
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Police
Evidence photograph of the jacket that Rahman asked to be filled with explosives. The wires attached to the pretend explosives would have been hidden within the jacket but revealed in this image for the benefit of the trial jury.

The methods and technologies of uncovering deception have changed over time. In the First World War, letters were scrutinised by the Postal Censorships department for secret messages and tested for traces of invisible ink.

During the height of the Cold War in 1960, MI5 investigators discovered a hidden network of Soviet spies hiding in suburban Ruislip. The Portland spy ring, as it was known, was uncovered through extensive surveillance – bugging phones, tracking people’s movements and even using a neighbouring family home to keep watch on the suspects.

In recent years, MI5 agents have posed as ISIS fighters online to uncover the plans of terrorist bomb plotters. In 2017, an undercover operation led to the arrest of Naa’imur Rahman who was given a fake device after requesting a bomb from undercover counter-terrorism police.

This exhibition has been supported by the Gerry Holdsworth Special Forces Charitable Trust 

IWM Shop

Explore of world of intrigue with spy gadgets and games.

Events and experiences

© Nicholas Reed
Image of Helen Fry
® Greg Morrison
© Peter Williams

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