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.


State of Deception, by Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker

Why won't the President rein in the intelligence community?

Wyden, who said that he has had "several spirited discussions" with Obama, is not optimistic. "It really seems like General Clapper, the intelligence leadership, and the lawyers drive this in terms of how decisions get made at the White House," he told me. It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules-set forth by a court that operates in secret-that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.

"These are profoundly different visions," Wyden said, referring to his disagreements with Obama, Feinstein, and senior intelligence officials. "I start with the proposition that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive." He noted that General Alexander had an "exceptionally expansive vision" of what the N.S.A. should collect. I asked Wyden for his opinion of the members of the review panel, most of whom are officials with ties to the intelligence establishment. He smiled and raised his eyebrows. An aide said, "Hope springs eternal."


Turkey: ‘Surreal, Menacing, Pompous...,' by Christopher de Bellaigue, the New York Review of Books

The closest model to what might be called a viable Islamic democracy -- the Turkish model -- is collapsing before our eyes.

On May 27, small numbers of environmentalists occupied Gezi Park, in Istanbul's Taksim Square, protesting against plans to replace the park with a shopping center inspired by the design of an old Ottoman barracks. Over the next few days they were joined by others expressing dissatisfaction with what they regard as the government's meddlesome Islamist agenda. The police responded violently and the agitation grew; by the time of the brutal eviction of a huge crowd from Taksim Square, more than two weeks later, some 3.5 million people (from a population of 80 million) had taken part in almost five thousand demonstrations across Turkey, five had lost their lives, and more than eight thousand had been injured. Clearly, the "Gezi events" were about more than trees.

The unrest of this summer divided Turks on the same issues that have caused civil strife elsewhere in the region: among them political Islam, ethnic and sectarian divisions (involving the Kurdish and Alevi minorities), and authoritarian rule. Although a meltdown on Egyptian lines is implausible, a transition to Islamic authoritarianism is not. That would do further injury to the idea that Islam and democracy can share the public sphere. It would also be the end of an experiment of which Turks are justifiably proud.

‘A Graveyard for Homosexuals,' by Katie J.M. Baker, Newsweek

Spurred by zealous American missionaries, Ethiopia has declared war on gay men.

But, while Ethiopia prohibits foreign LGBT-related activism, it welcomes international religious groups that preach homophobia. Thus, "religion is used as proxy for discrimination," explains Ty Cobb, director of Global Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, by groups who "couch hateful rhetoric in faith-based terms."

Last year's anti-gay conference and others like it are organized and funded by United for Life, a Western Evangelical Christian organization that receives funding from the U.K. and U.S. In May 2013, United for Life hosted a workshop during which police told government officials, religious leaders and health professionals that "homosexual family members and neighbors" were likely to sexually abuse children. A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality announced that the council was making "promising" progress in convincing the government to introduce the death penalty to punish "homosexual acts." United for Life's president, Seyoum Antonius, has made it clear that he won't quit anti-gay advocacy until Ethiopia adopts the death penalty. One of his rallying cries is, "Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!"

Missing American in Iran was on Unapproved Mission, by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, AP

An investigation has revealed that Bob Levinson, an American who went missing in Iran in 2007 was working for the CIA.

In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business.

But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts - with no authority to run spy operations - paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.


Back in the USSR, by Michael Weiss, Foreign Policy

The Ukraine protests aren't about the dream of Europe, but the fear of a Belarusian nightmare.

Try finding a cohesive working cultural definition of Europe and see where that gets you. No one's ever spoken seriously of the "great European novel," except maybe Susan Sontag. "Lie back and think of Europe" is a phrase that's probably only ever uttered by right-wing commentators terrified of supposed Muslim demographic trends on the continent. Even the apocryphal comment often attributed to Henry Kissinger -- "Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?" -- was meant to inspire titters about the prospect of getting nations that used to love to go to war with one another to act as collective decision-makers on matters of foreign policy. 

And yet, Ukraine is now entering its third week of protests in thermometer-shattering cold, and risking a nasty state crackdown, all because President Viktor Yanukovych put the kibosh on an association agreement that would have given Ukraine greater trade opportunities with the European Union. That this is an event both intelligible and singular for a former Soviet satellite that lies on the fault line between East and West was best captured by Timothy Snyder, that great historian of fault-line nations (and fault-line national tragedies), in a short essay in the New York Review of Books: "Would anyone anywhere in the world be willing to take a truncheon in the head for the sake of a trade agreement with the United States?" Implicit in the question is an acknowledgement that for the countries of the former Soviet Union, identity is shaped as much by what one does not aspire to be as by what one does.



Is Beijing about to Boot the New York Times?

The Chinese government's crackdown on Bloomberg and the "paper of record" reaches a head.

Before the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, journalists covering China had to make do with peering in from afar. "I would look longingly across the border, and say, ‘Why can't I be there?'" recalled veteran foreign correspondent Jim Laurie, about his early days reporting from Hong Kong. Today, of course, China is a universe away from the chaotic and autarkic 1970s. As China moved away from the periphery and towards the center of world and economic affairs over the past few decades, interest in the country has skyrocketed: there are now hundreds of journalists reporting in China for Western publications, while countless thousands other foreigners have written about the place. But now, history may be repeating itself: Beijing has threatened to de facto expel roughly two dozen foreign correspondents working for Bloomberg and the New York Times, arguably the two publications who have most successfully covered China over the last few years.  

Two New York Times journalists working in China, speaking on background, described how Beijing is withholding visa renewals for their 12 journalists working in China. Foreign journalists working legally in China need to renew their visa every year, a procedure which usually happens in December. But as of Dec. 10, the Foreign Ministry had not yet begun to process the applications. "Officials said they could not process those visas," one of the New York Times reporters told Foreign Policy. In early December, Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the newspaper, said that what was once "an annual nonevent" has become "a very big worry."

In 1979, after the restoration of U.S.-China diplomatic ties, Beijing opened up to American media organizations, and several newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, established bureaus there. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, these operations were generally quite small. But by the late 2000s, even as the financial crisis decimated hollowed-out international bureaus in other parts of the world, China-based newsrooms kept growing. In Sept. 2011, Bloomberg announced the "opening of expanded offices in Shanghai to accommodate expanded news, customer support and regional-specific services to meet growing demand in China." In 2011, the New York Times also decided to enlarge its bureau, and in June 2012 launched a Chinese-language edition. In an interview then, the paper's foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, said, "We hope and expect that Chinese officials will welcome what we're doing."

This turned out to be overly optimistic. While operating a bureau in China had always been complicated, serious problems started for the New York Times after they published an October 2012 story about the shocking wealth amassed by then Premier Wen Jiabao's family. (Wen's family claimed the story, which won a Pulitzer Prize, was untrue.) "The authorities took certain punitive measures," one of the journalists told Foreign Policy: the website was blocked and Chris Buckley, a seasoned foreign correspondent, was forced to leave the country after Beijing refused to give him a visa in December 2012. (China's Foreign Ministry later claimed Buckley hadn't been expelled -- only that he incorrectly filled out his visa application.) 

The current round of difficulties began, the reporters said, after the Nov. 13 publication of a story about J.P. Morgan Chase's alleged link to Wen's daughter. "My guess is they concluded in recent weeks that they needed to take another step because they thought we hadn't gotten the message," one of the journalists said. The other concurred: "Everything was going fine" until the second Wen story came out.

Things have become complicated for Bloomberg as well, but there's more dirty laundry. Bloomberg had roiled the waters in China for a series of groundbreaking 2012 stories, written by several journalists but headed by veteran Bloomberg correspondent Mike Forsythe, that disclosed the family wealth of two top Chinese officials: disgraced party boss Bo Xilai and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Following these prize-winning investigations, China ordered local financial institutions to refrain from purchasing Bloomberg terminals -- the main profit-generating engine of the media empire -- and blocked its website. Things got worse in early November, when the New York Times reported that Bloomberg journalists had accused editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler of suppressing an investigation into the wealth of a Chinese tycoon and his links with the Chinese government, for fear it would offend officials in Beijing. (Bloomberg denied this allegation.) Winkler allegedly compared reporting there to reporting inside Nazi-era Germany. 

In mid-November, Bloomberg suspended Forsythe. But things took a turn for the bizarre on Dec. 7 when Leta Hong Fincher, Forsythe's wife and an expert on gender in China, tweeted "Can anyone recommend a feminist lawyer in Hong Kong?" That tweet was followed by another: "Has anyone heard of a spouse being sued for breaching a company's confidentiality agreement when the spouse never worked for that company." She later deleted the tweets, but confirmed to Foreign Policy on Dec. 9 that "she is seeing a lawyer"; she declined to elaborate further. Ty Trippet, a Bloomberg spokesman, declined to comment for this story.

While Bloomberg has been quiet about its strategy in dealing with official troubles in Mainland China, the New York Times appears to have made it clear to Beijing that its inability to operate in China would not be taken lightly by the U.S. government.  On his trip to Beijing in early December, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and publicly chided Beijing, saying the United States has "profound disagreements" with the "treatment of U.S. journalists" in China.

"I think Biden's mention helped," said one of the New York Times reporters. "It put it at the top of the agenda, and let the Chinese know that there would probably be repercussions."  

If Beijing actually does plan to expel both bureaus it would constitute the government's biggest move against foreign reporters at least since the upheaval following the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. Evan Osnos, a staff writer for the New Yorker and a long-time China correspondent, called this recent move "the Chinese government's most dramatic attempt to insulate itself from scrutiny in the thirty-five years since China began opening to the world." Paul Mooney, a longtime China-based chronicler of that country's human rights abuses, had his visa rejected in early November, in another sign of tightening for foreign correspondents in China. Reuters, Bloomberg, and the New York Times "don't have the ability to influence the Chinese government," said Mooney. "I think we really need to have some kind of action. Maybe against media executives in China, or officials -- to give the message that this is not acceptable."

One of the New York Times reporters interviewed for this article suggested that Washington could slow down the approval process for U.S.-based executives for Chinese state media companies, like Xinhua and CCTV. "I would advocate this reciprocal kind of delay, and then if that didn't work, tit-for-tat visa denial, targeting executives," this reporter said. "After all these years in China, this is what I see as the only thing that works, with the Chinese government. They don't play nice." 

It's not too late for Beijing to pull back and allow the bureaus to continue to operate.  "Perhaps they won't pursue the nuclear option," said one of the New York Times journalists, adding that "it would be a public relations debacle" if the bureau was expelled. "There is talk about contingency plans, but it's not our priority right now," said the other reporter. "We have until Dec. 17 or 18 before the first of our residency visas expires." If they are expelled, the plan is to continue reporting, but from Hong Kong and Taiwan. "It's not ideal, but we're going to have smart and trenchant coverage of China either way," said one of the journalists. An executive at the New York Times familiar with the plans, who asked to speak on background, said reporting on China "is best done from China, but it can be done from elsewhere as well." Hong Kong, where the newspaper has a large presence, is an "obvious" choice.  

The experience of Chris Buckley, the New York Times reporter who settled in Hong Kong after his visa wasn't renewed last year, has shown that it's not impossible to cover China internationally. He has continued doggedly reporting from Hong Kong, though his wife and daughter remain in China. "The personal toll on Chris has been immense," said one of the New York Times  journalists. A few weeks ago, I tweeted that Buckley may be the future of China journalism. "I sincerely hope not," he responded. Sadly, that's looking more and more likely. As for Buckley himself, it doesn't appear likely he will be allowed to move back to China anytime soon. Just like Laurie and his peers in the 1970s, he is consigned to sitting in Hong Kong and gazing longingly at the Mainland. And if things get worse, he'll soon have company.

Guang Niu/Getty Images