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.