Feature

Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Obama's Drone-Master

Reid Cherlin • GQ

An interview with John Brennan, the man behind America's drone strategy.

"I'm going up to Jersey tomorrow, to try to escape." John O. Brennan, President Obama's top counterterrorism advisor and his soon-to-be new CIA director, leans back in his chair. Brennan is a proud son of Hudson County, a baseball player at his Catholic high school, a commuter student at Fordham. It's a common-touch backstory that, a tad predictably, Brennan's fans bring up all the time, and that he himself seems to cling to. He points to a photograph on the wall behind my head, a black and white shot of George H.W. Bush, surrounded by aides.

"The guy walking through the door actually is me, with hair," he says. "That was the first time I went into the Oval Office. I remember almost pinching myself, saying, 'What's a guy from Jersey doing in here? And why does the president really care about what I say?' Now, since then, I've been in the Oval Office I guess hundreds of times, and there are still a lot of times I say to myself, 'What's a guy from Jersey-you know, doing in this?'"

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Prism

Jill Lepore • The New Yorker

Privacy in an age of publicity.

An extraordinary fuss about eavesdropping started in the spring of 1844, when Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian exile in London, became convinced that the British government was opening his mail. Mazzini, a revolutionary who'd been thrown in jail in Genoa, imprisoned in Savona, sentenced to death in absentia, and arrested in Paris, was plotting the unification of the kingdoms of Italy and the founding of an Italian republic. He suspected that, in London, he'd been the victim of what he called "post-office espionage": he believed that the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, had ordered his mail to be opened, at the request of the Austrian Ambassador, who, like many people, feared what Mazzini hoped-that an insurrection in Italy would spark a series of revolutions across Europe. Mazzini knew how to find out: he put poppy seeds, strands of hair, and grains of sand into envelopes, sealed the envelopes with wax, and sent them, by post, to himself. When the letters arrived-still sealed-they contained no poppy seeds, no hair, and no grains of sand. Mazzini then had his friend Thomas Duncombe, a Member of Parliament, submit a petition to the House of Commons. Duncombe wanted to know if Graham really had ordered the opening of Mazzini's mail. Was the British government in the business of prying into people's private correspondence? Graham said the answer to that question was a secret.

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Booz Allen, the World's Most Profitable Spy Organization

Drake Bennett and Michael Riley • Businessweek

Inside America's shadow intelligence agency. 

In 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy began to think about what a war with Germany would look like. The admirals worried in particular about the Kriegsmarine's fleet of U-boats, which were preying on Allied shipping and proving impossible to find, much less sink. Stymied, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox turned to Booz, Fry, Allen & Hamilton, a consulting firm in Chicago whose best-known clients were Goodyear Tire & Rubber (GT) and Montgomery Ward. The firm had effectively invented management consulting, deploying whiz kids from top schools as analysts and acumen-for-hire to corporate clients. Working with the Navy's own planners, Booz consultants developed a special sensor system that could track the U-boats' brief-burst radio communications and helped design an attack strategy around it. With its aid, the Allies by war's end had sunk or crippled most of the German submarine fleet.

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The Price of Loyalty in Syria

Robert F. Worth • The New York Times

A portrait of Bashar al-Assad's Alawite base

The family fled their home on the capital's outskirts to Mezze 86, where they would be surrounded by other Alawites. "We are the ones who are being targeted," Ibtisam told me. "My husband did nothing. He was a retired officer volunteering at a hospital." Now, she said, she could barely afford to rent two cramped rooms with her four children. A dull artillery boom shook the coffee cups on the table where we sat. The men who took me to her, also Alawite, began to reel off their own stories of murdered friends and relatives, and of neighbors abducted by rebels. "You will find stories like this in every house, people killed, people kidnapped, and all because of their sect," one of them said. "They think all Alawites are rich, because we are the same sect as Bashar al-Assad. They think we can talk to the president whenever we like. But look how we are living!"

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images


Comey Don't Play That

Marc Ambinder • Foreign Policy

How Obama's pick to lead the FBI tried to put the brakeson the NSA's surveillance dragnet

It was not until Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized with pancreatitis in early 2004 that his deputy, James Comey, first learned the extent of the Bush administration's surveillance programs. Reluctantly, the White House had agreed to "read him in." What Comey found out -- about both the government's warrantless domestic telephone interceptions and the bulk collection of data processed on American servers -- stunned him. Relying on an extreme interpretation of executive authority, the Bush legal team had established a set of war powers that broke precedent and concentrated power in the White House. Together with Jack Goldsmith, the Justice Department's head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Comey realized these efforts were based on legal opinions that should never have been signed.

Of particular concern was the fact that telecom companies, Internet companies, credit-rating agencies, and the like had been providing the National Security Agency (NSA) with any customer records that the agency asked to see -- who called whom, who bought what, who rented a car where. As many as 50 companies were providing the NSA with un-sifted bulk data on a regular basis without a court order. There was no discrimination at all; Americans and non-Americans alike were swept up by this surveillance dragnet. Faced with a White House request to reauthorize these activities, as Ashcroft had done, Comey balked.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

For daily picks from around the web, check out Longform or download Longform for iPad.

 

Comments

Load More Comments