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.


How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet, by Steven Levy, Wired

Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the other tech titans have had to fight for their lives against their own government. An exclusive look inside their year from hell -- and why the Internet will never be the same.

Gellman wanted to be the first to expose a top-secret NSA program called Prism. Snowden's files indicated that some of the biggest companies on the web had granted the NSA and FBI direct access to their servers, giving the agencies the ability to grab a person's audio, video, photos, emails, and documents. The government urged Gellman not to identify the firms involved, but Gellman thought it was important. "Naming those companies is what would make it real to Americans," he says. Now a team of Post reporters was reaching out to those companies for comment.

It would be the start of a chain reaction that threatened the foundations of the industry. The subject would dominate headlines for months and become the prime topic of conversation in tech circles. For years, the tech companies' key policy issue had been negotiating the delicate balance between maintaining customers' privacy and providing them benefits based on their personal data. It was new and contro­versial territory, sometimes eclipsing the substance of current law, but over time the companies had achieved a rough equilibrium that allowed them to push forward. The instant those phone calls from reporters came in, that balance was destabilized, as the tech world found itself ensnared in a fight far bigger than the ones involving oversharing on Facebook or ads on Gmail. Over the coming months, they would find themselves at war with their own government, in a fight for the very future of the Internet.


Afro-Europe in the World Cup, by Laurent DuBois, Roads and Kingdoms

How the children of African immigrants came to control the destiny of teams in France and Belgium and what it says about European identity.

Though France's teams had been multi-ethnic ever since they had existed as such-already in the 1920s and 1930s the teams had North and West African players, such as the Moroccan star Larbi Ben Barek-that fact had never been infused with major political symbolism. But Le Pen's attacks on the team politicized its players, many of whom responded passionately and angrily to his statements, and also amounted to an invitation to politicians and journalists to embrace the team precisely as a way of rejecting Le Pen. Then, unfortunately the for the Far Right politician, a team he had condemned for being made up of "foreigners" and "mercenaries" who didn't know the national anthem made history, by winning France's it's first World Cup -- on home soil -- in 1998. Thanks in no small part to Le Pen, the celebration of that victory doubled for many people as a celebration of the dawning of a new, multi-cultural, France.


The Geel Question, by Mike Jay, Aeon

For centuries, a little town in Belgium has been treating the mentally ill. Why are its medieval methods so successful?

Among the people of Geel, the term 'mentally ill' is never heard: even words such as 'psychiatric' and 'patient' are carefully hedged with finger-waggling and scare quotes. The family care system, as it's known, is resolutely non-medical. When boarders meet their new families, they do so, as they always have, without a backstory or clinical diagnosis. If a word is needed to describe them, it's often a positive one such as 'special', or at worst, 'different'. This might in fact be more accurate than 'mentally ill', since the boarders have always included some who would today be diagnosed with learning difficulties or special needs. But the most common collective term is simply 'boarders', which defines them at the most pragmatic level by their social, not mental, condition. These are people who, whatever their diagnosis, have come here because they're unable to cope on their own, and because they have no family or friends who can look after them.


The Wikileaks Mole, by David Kushner, Rolling Stone

How a teenage misfit became the keeper of Julian Assange's deepest secrets -- only to betray him.

Siggi has provided Rolling Stone with more than a terabyte of secret files he claims to have taken from WikiLeaks before he left in November 2011 and gave to the FBI: thousands of pages of chat logs, videos, tapped phone calls, government documents and more than a few bombshells from the organization's most heated years. They're either the real thing, or the most elaborate lie of the digital age.

Assange himself validated the importance of Siggi's documents when he filed an affidavit late this past summer asserting that "the FBI illegally acquired stolen organisational and personal data belonging to WikiLeaks, me and other third parties in Denmark in March 2012" and that the FBI "was attempting to entrap me through Sigurdur Thordarson."

Whatever their origins, the SiggiLeaks are a deep and revealing portal into one of the most guarded and influential organizations of the 21st century - and the extreme measures its embattled leader is willing to take.


Vanished, Nik Steinberg, Foreign Policy

In 2011, Israel Arenas Durán disappeared in northern Mexico. Why can't the government find him -- and the thousands of others who've gone missing in the country's drug war?

"Disappearing" people, which involves abducting them and then concealing their whereabouts, was one of the most sinister tactics used by governments in Latin America's "dirty wars," beginning in the 1960s. At that time, disappearances were aimed at eradicating guerrilla movements and their suspected sympathizers -- leftist intellectuals, trade unionists, student leaders. Augusto Pinochet's government in Chile disappeared more than 3,000 people; Argentina's military junta disappeared 10,000, by official count. During Mexico's dirty war from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the PRI government disappeared an estimated 500 people -- some of whom were thrown alive from Air Force planes over the Pacific Ocean. If even half of the cases on the leaked 2012 list were real, they would constitute one of the worst waves of disappearances in the Americas in decades.

But unlike the dirty-war disappearances, which followed a sinister logic in targeting specific sectors of the population, there is no single explanation for why so many people have gone missing in Mexico's drug war, or for what has happened to them. I have spent over three years investigating more than 300 disappearances across 11 Mexican states for Human Rights Watch. I've found that, if these disappearances share anything in common, it is that the government has done almost nothing to try to find the missing. And it has consistently failed to pursue the obvious lines of evidence that, in case after case -- including Israel Arenas Durán's -- point to collusion between the cartels and the very soldiers and police sent to combat them.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images; PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images; ArcheoNet Vlaanderen/flickr; Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images; Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images


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.

A Deadly Mix in Benghazi, by David D. Kirkpatrick, the New York Times

A New York Times investigation presents a deeper set of lessons about the Benghazi attack on September 11 than either narrative adopted along party lines.

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria's civil conflict.


A Mission Gone Wrong, by Mattathias Schwartz, the New Yorker

Why are we still fighting the drug war?

In Congress, some are losing patience. "There is great fatigue surrounding our drug programs in the Western Hemisphere," a staff member told me. "We don't have good ideas. We don't have good answers. We don't have good anything. But we also know that doing nothing is a problem. So the whole thing is on autopilot. When you're in the machine, it's very difficult to say anything other than ‘Keep shooting. Keep decapitating the cartels.' "

"The war on drugs has simply not worked," George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State under Reagan, told me. "It hasn't kept drugs out of this country." In 2011, Shultz, along with a committee of former heads of state, businessmen, and retired U.S. officials, called for an overhaul of U.S. drug-enforcement policy. The effects of interdiction programs like Anvil, they wrote, "are negated almost instantly," wasting money that would be better spent on treatment and harm reduction. I asked Shultz why ineffectual policies have persisted. "We haven't felt the full effects of it ourselves," he said. "It took us twelve years to learn that Prohibition wasn't working. There was Al Capone, there was the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The violence was here. Now we have outsourced the violence, in effect, to Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras."


The Hidden Man, by Christopher Goffard, the Los Angeles Times

America saw Stephen Hill's face for 15 seconds. It took him a lifetime to show it.

He followed President Clinton's attempt to lift the ban on gay service members. One senator promised that this would "destroy the greatest Army that the world has ever known." The military brass spoke of the harm that would be done to the "cohesion" of combat units. Some warned of violence against gay soldiers.

The debate yielded "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which was billed as a compromise but would result in the discharge of more than 14,000 gay service members over the next 18 years.

For Hill, it prolonged a double life of tension and hiding. The fortress of lies he'd constructed had to be ironclad. A soldier didn't have to broadcast that he was gay to lose his career. Someone noticing was enough.


Hazards of Revolution, by Patrick Cockburn, the London Review of Books

Why have oppositions in the Arab world and beyond failed so absolutely - and why have they repeated  so many of the faults and crimes of the old regimes?

What would Ahmed think of the Libyan revolution now? An interim government is nominally in control but the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi have been full of militia checkpoints manned by some of the 225,000 registered militiamen whose loyalty is to their commanders rather than the state that pays them. When demonstrators appeared outside the headquarters of the Misrata militia in Tripoli on 15 November demanding that they go home, the militiamen opened fire with everything from Kalashnikovs to anti-aircraft guns, killing 43 protesters and wounding some four hundred others. This led to popular protests in which many militias were forced out of Tripoli, though it's not clear whether this is permanent. Earlier the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was kidnapped by militia gunmen without a shot being fired by his own guards to protect him. (He was released after a few hours.) Mutinying militias have closed the oil ports to exports and eastern Libya is threatening to secede. The Libyan state has collapsed, for the simple reason that the rebels were too weak to fill the vacuum left by the fall of the old regime. After all, it was Nato airstrikes, not rebel strength, that overthrew Gaddafi.


How Zionist Extremism Became British Spies' Biggest Enemy, by Calder Walton, Foreign Policy

In World War II's aftermath, MI5 turned to fight a new threat. It wasn't the Soviets. It was bombers from Jerusalem.

But MI5's most urgent threat lay not in its diminished resources, nor from its new Soviet enemy. Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Zionist terrorist groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine, which had been placed under British control in 1921. They were called the Irgun Zevai Leumi ("National Military Organization," or the Irgun for short) and the Lehi (an acronym in Hebrew for "Freedom Fighters of Israel"), which the British also termed the "Stern Gang," after its founding leader, Avraham Stern. The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years -- blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state -- legitimized the use of violence against British targets. MI5's involvement with counterterrorism, which preoccupies it down to the present day, arose in the immediate post-war years when it dealt with the Irgun and Stern Gang.

STR/AFP/Getty Images; ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images; Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images; MAHMOUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images