There's the world you think you know. Then, there's the world of The Brush Pass — a weekly newsletter exploring the shadowy world of espionage.

The Brush Pass
Bradley Hope
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Investigating Havana Syndrome

In 2016, U.S. diplomatic personnel, including undercover CIA officers, in Havana, Cuba, began reporting a series of extraordinary, and worrying, physical ailments. Affected individuals reported suffering extreme nausea, dizziness, headaches, and memory loss, among other symptoms. Many of the affected officials said they had heard an ear-shattering, high-pitched sound

Zach Dorfman
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The Russian Spies of San Diego

It’s the early 1990s. The cold war has ended, and U.S. counterintelligence agents, though savoring their victory against the Soviets, are skeptical that the Russians were going to stop spying on the U.S. The old Eastern Bloc–Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and others–had turned decisively toward the

Zach Dorfman
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Alex Joske on China's Influence Operations Abroad

Most national security analysts in the United States will tell you that China presents a unique challenge to the U.S.-based order. What U.S. officials refer to as the “scope and scale” of the threat from Beijing outstrips that posed by other Western adversaries, even Russia, these officials

Zach Dorfman
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What An Indictment of Alleged Chinese Intel Operatives Reveals About U.S. Double Agent Operations

On October 24, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of Guochun He and Zheng Wang, a pair of alleged Chinese intelligence officers, on money laundering and obstruction-related charges (but not, interestingly, for espionage itself). He and Wang are accused of attempting to procure sensitive information about the ongoing prosecution

Zach Dorfman
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Exclusive: Inside “Steady Stare,” the Trump-era Plan to Monitor All Chinese Students in the U.S.

The Trump administration took a decidedly confrontational approach to China on national security issues. Among other moves, it forged closer ties to Taiwan, blacklisted Chinese telecommunications giants from access to critical computer chips, and revved up the “China Initiative,” a controversial Justice Department-led crackdown on the theft of trade secrets

Zach Dorfman
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On Agent Compromise in the Field

In 2017, a team of New York Times journalists revealed that, beginning in 2010, Beijing’s counterintelligence apparatus had systematically rolled up the CIA’s sources in China. What caused the breach? The piece pointed to a potential agency turncoat — later identified as Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA

Zach Dorfman
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Unearthed File Reveals Huge Cold War-Era U.S. Bugging Operation Against Soviets

There are a number of unwritten rules in the world of espionage. These practices of the profession — though quietly accepted universally as “fair game” — can engender haughty rhetorical denunciations when an offending state is caught engaging in them. Sometimes, countries will strategically disclose evidence of these sorts of intelligence activities.

Zach Dorfman
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The counterintelligence life: a remembrance of FBI agent Bill Kinane

In 1998, amid the chaos and corruption of post-Soviet Russia, Galina Starovoytova, a popular pro-democracy legislator and dissident, was assassinated in her apartment building in St. Petersburg. Many suspected that she had been targeted for her outspoken liberal views. Soon after the killing, Bill Kinane, an FBI legal attaché in

Zach Dorfman
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The Grinding War: An Interview with Polish Diplomat Marcin Przydacz on Ukraine

Last week at the Aspen Security Forum, I spoke with Marcin Przydacz, Poland's Undersecretary of State for Security, the Americas, Asia and Eastern Policy. Since the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Poland has served as the central hub for Western military support for Kyiv. In addition to its

Zach Dorfman
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Exclusive: Why the CIA balked at Trump-era coup discussions in Venezuela

Last week, John Bolton, a senior Trump-era official, made waves when in an unscripted television appearance he admitted to planning foreign coups. Bolton, who served as Trump's national security advisor in 2018 and 2019, and as UN ambassador during the George W. Bush administration, was being interviewed by Jake Tapper

Zach Dorfman
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The top spy cities you might not expect

There are certain cities that have long been known as epicenters of espionage: New York, the world’s financial capital and home to the United Nations, or Geneva, in studiously neutral (and banking-friendly) Switzerland, home to an array of international institutions, or Vienna, where legal prohibitions against spying are infamously

Zach Dorfman
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Does politics always stop at water's edge?

One of the great received ideas in American public life is that the world of national security is somehow hermetically sealed off from that of domestic politics. During the Cold War, the refrain was politics had to stop “at the water’s edge.” Back then, the potential for nuclear conflagration