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 brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret, by Michael Hastings. Rolling Stone.
How killing by remote control has changed the way we fight:
The use of drones is rapidly transforming the way we go to war. On the battlefield, a squad leader can receive real-time data from a drone that enables him to view the landscape for miles in every direction, dramatically expanding the capabilities of what would normally have been a small and isolated unit. “It’s democratized information on the battlefield,” says Daniel Goure, a national security expert who served in the Defense Department during both Bush administrations. “It’s like a reconnaissance version of Twitter.” Drones have also radically altered the CIA, turning a civilian intelligence-gathering agency into a full-fledged paramilitary operation — one that routinely racks up nearly as many scalps as any branch of the military.
But the implications of drones go far beyond a single combat unit or civilian agency. On a broader scale, the remote-control nature of unmanned missions enables politicians to wage war while claiming we’re not at war — as the United States is currently doing in Pakistan. What’s more, the Pentagon and the CIA can now launch military strikes or order assassinations without putting a single boot on the ground – and without worrying about a public backlash over U.S. soldiers coming home in body bags. The immediacy and secrecy of drones make it easier than ever for leaders to unleash America’s military might — and harder than ever to evaluate the consequences of such clandestine attacks.
Another Night to Remember, by Bryan Burrough. Vanity Fair.
The sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship:
At 9:57, 15 minutes after the ship struck the rock, Schettino phoned Costa Cruises’ operations center. The executive he spoke to, Roberto Ferrarini, later told reporters, “Schettino told me there was one compartment flooded, the compartment with electrical propulsion motors, and with that kind of situation the ship’s buoyancy was not compromised. His voice was quite clear and calm.” Between 10:06 and 10:26, the two men spoke three more times. At one point, Schettino admitted that a second compartment had flooded. That was, to put it mildly, an understatement. In fact, five compartments were flooding; the situation was hopeless. (Later, Schettino would deny that he had attempted to mislead either his superiors or anyone else.)
They were sinking. How much time they had, no one knew. Schettino had few options. The engines were dead. Computer screens had gone black. The ship was drifting and losing speed. Its momentum had carried it north along the island’s coastline, past the harbor, then past a rocky peninsula called Point Gabbianara. By 10 P.M., 20 minutes after striking the rock, the ship was heading away from the island, into open water. If something wasn’t done immediately, it would sink there.
Getting Plowed, by Selena Ross. Maisonneuve.
Collusion, sabotage, violence-inside Montreal’s no-holds-barred snow removal racket:
Not long before, their boss, the owner of a small snow-removal business, had won a multimillion-dollar contract to clear snow in that borough for the first time ever. A different contractor had been working in the area, but when it came time to place bids that year, the upstart business named a lower price, and the old company lost out. The two workers knew exactly who was responsible for the booby-trapped snowbank. Although their boss had won the bid fairly, moving in on another company’s territory is considered stealing in Montreal’s snow-removal industry — a sector in which businesses rarely bid on contracts they haven’t already marked as their property. It was only $10,000 in damage, but to the newcomers, the message was clear: don’t step out of line again.
How the New York Film Academy Discovered Gold in the Developing World, by Andrew Rice. Capital New York.
On the business model of the ubiquitous trade school, and a visit to its satellite operation in Nigeria:
At an evening opening ceremony, the academy’s 26 instructors and staff were introduced to a chorus of raucous hollers from the student body. One of the program’s organizers, Stephanie Okereke, took the stage wearing a hot pink blazer. A statuesque Nollywood movie star, she herself is the graduate of a New York Film Academy course.
“Most of us went all the way to America to do this opportunity,” Okereke said. “And now it is here, live in Nigeria, so you don’t have to go through the horrors of getting a visa.”
Then the actress played the schoolmarm.
“Please, please, please pay attention you guys,” she told the students. “Because you have a lot to learn, in so little time.”
The crash course was extremely expensive, especially by African standards: $5,000 per student, including living expenses, meaning that the overall cost to the Nigerians was around $1.2 million. The overwhelming majority of students were attending on scholarships sponsored by corporations and Nigerian government institutions. The largest funder was the Niger Delta Development Commission, an agency charged with creating job opportunities in a formerly war-torn region of the country. But technically speaking, the program was open to anyone, regardless of previous education, grades or experience, in keeping with what the academy’s president, a former movie producer named Jerry Sherlock, described as its founding democratic principle.
Patriot Games, by J.M. Berger. Foreign Policy.
How the FBI spent a decade hunting white supremacists…and missed Timothy McVeigh:
In 1990, the FBI began picking up on rumors about an effort to reconstitute a notorious terrorist-criminal gang known as The Order.
The group’s name was taken from the infamous racist 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, which told the story of a fictional cabal carrying out acts of terrorism and eventually overthrowing the U.S. government in a bloody, nihilistic racial purge. The book was an inspiration to a generation of white nationalists, including Timothy McVeigh, whose path to radicalization climaxed in the Oklahoma City bombing 17 years ago Thursday.
During the 1980s, extremists inspired by the book began robbing banks and armored cars, stealing and counterfeiting millions of dollars and distributing some of the money to racist extremist causes. Members of The Order assassinated Jewish talk radio host Alan Berg in 1984, before most of its members were arrested and its leader killed in a standoff. Less than 10 percent of the money stolen by The Order was ever recovered, and investigators feared members of the group who were still at large would use it to further a campaign of terrorism.
To prevent the rise of a “Second Order,” FBI undercover agents would become it.