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Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

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.


Jahar’s World

Janet Reitman • Rolling Stone

The multiple lives of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In retrospect, Jahar’s comment about 9/11 could be seen in the context of what criminal profilers call “leakage”: a tiny crack in an otherwise carefully crafted facade that, if recognized – it’s often not – provides a key into the person’s interior world. “On cases where I’ve interviewed these types of people, the key is looking past their exterior and getting access to that interior, which is very hard,” says Tom Neer, a retired agent from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and now a senior associate with the Soufan Group, which advises the government on counterterrorism. “Most people have a public persona as well as a private persona, but for many people, there’s a secret side, too. And the secret side is something that they labor really hard to protect.”

There were many things about Jahar that his friends and teachers didn’t know – something not altogether unusual for immigrant children, who can live highly bifurcated lives, toggling back and forth between their ethnic and American selves. “I never saw the parents, and didn’t even know he had a brother,” says Payack, who wondered why Jahar never had his family rooting for him on the sidelines, as his teammates did. “If you’re a big brother and you love your little brother, why don’t you come and watch him in sports?”

Photo provided by FBI via Getty Images


Operation Easter

Julian Rubinstein • New Yorker

The hunt for a secretive network of British men obsessed with accumulating and cataloguing the eggs of rare birds.

The man was Matthew Gonshaw, the most notorious egg collector in Britain. An unemployed Londoner, Gonshaw had already served three prison terms on egg-collecting charges. When he was last apprehended, in 2004, investigators had seized nearly six hundred eggs, a hundred and four of them hidden inside a secret compartment in his bed frame.

There is no police station on Rum, so Everitt took Gonshaw to the Scottish Natural Heritage office, where Gonshaw consented to a search of his rucksack. It held several small syringes, which collectors use to forcibly blow out the contents of eggs; topographical maps of the area; a loop of rope; and a military survival guide. Everitt had also noticed shredded newspaper sticking out of some food containers. Inside them were twenty eggs, including eight of the Manx shearwater.

Gonshaw refused to answer questions; he knew the police would raid his apartment and asked that they get the key from the landlord instead of breaking down the door. Everitt called his Edinburgh office, which informed the Metropolitan Police, in London. Within hours, a joint special-forces team from the police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the U.K.’s largest conservation organization, were preparing to search Gonshaw’s flat. Mark Thomas, a senior investigator for the R.S.P.B. who had become a minor celebrity on the environmental-crime circuit for his work on egg-collecting cases, told me recently that, when he got the call, “I put down the phone and literally ran to my car.”

Matt Cardy/Getty Images


In Iraq, the Bomb-Detecting Device That Didn’t Work, Except to Make Money

Adam Higginbotham • Businessweek

How a con man named James McCormick sold $38 million worth of phony bomb-detection devices to Iraqi authorities.

In the meantime, McCormick approached Minnesota Global, a mail-order business in Minneapolis, the manufacturer of the Lil’ Orbits doughnut-making machine and the distributor of the remaining stock of the Gopher golf ball finder. At the end of 2005 he ordered 100 golf ball detectors from Minnesota at $19.50 each and, a few months later, 200 more. In his garage in Somerset, he later told police, he programmed these for “electrostatic ion attraction” using a collection of jam jars and spice pots that contained samples of drugs and explosives. In each jar, he placed small colored stickers and left them for a week to absorb the vapor of whatever substance his customers might wish to detect. The samples included cannabis; folded fragments of a Japanese 1,000 yen note; and a piece of gauze McCormick had used to staunch a nosebleed, which he later explained was used to aid in human detection. After a sticker had spent a week absorbing vapor, he glued it inside the Gopher. He then removed the plastic badge that identified it as a golf ball finder, and replaced it with one bearing ATSC’s logo. This became the ADE 100-sold for the first time, in March 2006, to McCormick’s agents in Lebanon. Price: $3,000 each.

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images


Makers of War

Matthieu Aikins • Wired

How a corporate network engineer became one of Aleppo’s most prolific weapons manufacturers.   

In the school hallway, there is an olive-green 75-mm mortar, newly arrived from his shop. It’s the highest-quality homemade weapon I’ve ever seen. “This is the work of months of development,” Yassin says, patting the mortar. “It takes eight days to polish the inside of the tube.” Indeed, the inside of the barrel is perfectly smooth, and the tube connects to its stand with a pair of smoothly greased threads; the mortar shells, shaped like bowling pins, have been painted and finely milled.

Yassin is selling it for around $500-cheap, considering that a professional one on Aleppo’s black market would cost thousands of dollars. Yassin isn’t trying to make much of a profit. Once he masters a device, he keeps trying to find less expensive ways to manufacture it. With the homemade grenades, he has been able to cut costs by using steel tailings he gets for free from a generator factory. That has brought the unit cost of each grenade down to the equivalent of $3, which is exactly what he sells them for.

I ask him what he plans to make next. He rummages around in the principal’s desk, under a set of exam booklets, before pulling out a small brass device and handing it to me. “Take a look at this,” he says, and I turn it over in my hand. It looks like a plumbing fitting.

“It’s a pressure-sensitive detonator,” he says. “Be careful, it’s live.”

JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images


The View from the Sitting Room

Angie Chuang • Vela

In post-Taliban Kabul, searching for answers with the family of Mohammed, an activist captured by Afghan communists before the 1979 Soviet War.

I deliberately saved one photo for last: the one Stephanie had taken of Grandma’s photo room, in which Mohammed’s framed portrait was visible. I silently clicked on it and tilted the screen at her. Amina made a small sound of recognition and stared for a long time. She made regular visits to the compound and must have known the room. But seeing this photo told her that I had also seen this room. She touched the screen image of Mohammed and looked at me quizzically, asking a question softly in Pashto. I wanted to summon Laila. But, wait: I knew what Amina was asking me, if not the words, then the spirit of the question.

Wo,” I said, catching her dark-eyed gaze for a moment, and then turning my eyes downward respectfully. She had asked if I knew what happened to him. “But I want to know more,” I said, just above a whisper, in English. Then, heart pounding, barely audible: “What did it mean to you?” I mustered the courage to ask only because I was sure she would never understand me.

Amina nodded gently and said “Xa,” the Pashto equivalent of “Oh,” or “Uh-huh.” Startled, I clicked the photo closed. Had she understood me? Or was she just making a polite acknowledgement of my English jibberish?

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

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