That spy film staple, the so-called “brush pass" used to pass documents or a package between agents, can be traced back to the Cold War era. The technique was developed to be used in hostile areas where U.S. agents were under constant surveillance, Earnest said.
“It's very elaborate," he said. “You're staging this but you are arranging for you and the agent to pass each other surreptitiously somewhere." Highly choreographed, the handoffs took place quickly in alleys, on corners, in subway stairwells.
In late 2009, an elderly couple, Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, was convicted on charges that they'd spent several decades spying on the United States for Cuba. Among their tactics, according to the F.B.I., was a variation of the brush pass. Gwendolyn exchanged shopping carts in grocery stores with contacts to pass along information.