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
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

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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

Zach Dorfman
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From The Archives: 'Sticks and Bricks'

A flurry of recent articles has documented the extinction of a once-ubiquitous feature on the streets of New York City: the pay phone. In their heyday, pay phones offered a convenient, cheap, relatively anonymous form of communication (though certainly not a secure one). Criminals used them regularly. Spies, too, employed

Zach Dorfman
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Welcome to the Brush Pass

Hello, and welcome to the inaugural edition of The Brush Pass! I’m Zach Dorfman, a national security and intelligence journalist, and the author of the newsletter you’re now reading. I want to kick off this inaugural edition with something that may seem a little unusual – but bear with