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.


‘We’re at Greater Risk’
Matthias Schwartz, the New Yorker

The NSA’s top spy answers questions on Snowden and the surveillance state.

Let’s go back to World War II and the German Enigma code. Would you agree that keeping that code secret was in our best interest to win the war?…

O.K. And you may recall that, in 1942, [the German naval commander] Karl Dönitz came up with the thought that we’d cracked it, so he added a fourth rotor. We didn’t break that fourth rotor for nine months. And the war in the Atlantic shipping lanes-it went in the Germans’ favor. The tonnage that was sunk by the German U-boats over that nine months was significant. Then we broke the fourth rotor. Dönitz didn’t ask himself, Well, could they have broken the fourth rotor? And the rest of the war in the Atlantic, you know how it went. Those clues, the fate of a nation, and, I think, of the Western world, hung on that one key piece of information.

Now let’s go forward. How do you do enough against terrorists without telling them how you’re doing this? This is the issue that I have with leaking classified material, with what Snowden has done. I’ve had forty years of doing this. And some of those were good years.


Age of Darkness
Cairo Review

Adonis, the Arab world’s greatest living poet, reflects on the Arab Spring.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is the power of the Arabic language?
ADONIS: The Arabs are not equal to their language. They don’t know it. You can listen to an imam, a so-called imam who is supposed to know Arabic, but he doesn’t. I’ve said that Islam has become a religion without a culture, without a language. Nobody reads the Quran anymore. They listen to it like a song. Through the muezzin with a pretty voice. Arabic is a total language; there is music, voice and body. It’s a language of the body too. A language of dreams, imagination and nature. There is natura naturans, “natured nature,” in this language. There are many talented young poets, but poetry has a bit of a problem because Arabs don’t read anymore and don’t know their language. Loving poetry means knowing one’s language profoundly. So there is a problem now in the Arab countries. We don’t have a philosophy. In Arab society there are no philosophers. We don’t know psychoanalysis. In my opinion, Arabs needed a Freudian revolution more than a Marxist revolution. Because Arab culture is becoming more and more a psychological case. We understand nothing in this society…

CAIRO REVIEW: Would you have been happier living in the nineteenth or early twentieth century?
ADONIS: I have no nostalgia. But I love this period, living heartbroken, and I know this heartbrokenness in all respects can create something new.


Northern Exposure
Masha Gessin, Harper’s

The Russian captivity of 30 Greenpeace oil-derrick protesters.

Although eight of the people on board the Greenpeace vessel that summer spoke Russian, they made a point of communicating in English. “We are a peaceful organization,” the voice over the radio kept insisting. That voice belonged to Litvinov, who speaks American English with a perceptible Swedish accent, which colors his Russian as well: it’s as if all his words are passed through a consonant-softening filter. The activists had the distinct impression that their interlocutors did not understand much English. The Gazprom employees threw scrap metal at the activists climbing the platform, aimed water cannons at their boats, and finally called for the Border Guard. By then, however, Greenpeace was done with its first offensive and departed.

The activists, of course, had their own comprehension difficulties. They failed to grasp the nature of the oil workers’ dismay, and the fact that in 2012 Russian society was undergoing a profound transformation. It was the year the prodemocracy movement peaked and collapsed following Putin’s election to a third term as president.

Reading Between the Targeted Killings
J. Dana Stuster, Foreign Policy

When a former drone official writes fiction, what is he really trying to say?

This is perhaps the strangest thing about the book: In talking to Clarke, he doesn’t seem entirely convinced by his characters’ frequent defenses of the drone program.

Towards the beginning of our interview, Clarke explained that “I would like, at the end of the day, the reader to say, ‘OK, I had fun reading that book, but what’s Clarke’s position on drones?’ And not know.” As our conversation ended 40 minutes later, I still didn’t feel like I understood his position on drones. But had Clarke written a non-fiction book about drones, it seems that it would have been very different.


Rock Star in a Hard Place
Ty McCormick, Foreign Policy

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala built Africa’s biggest economy, but can she survive its politics?

With the possible exception of the two presidents she has served, Okonjo-Iweala has done more to shape Nigeria’s economic success story than any other individual. And more than any other non-head of state in Africa, she has come to personify the ideal of hard-nosed reform. When she first took office in 2003, four years after Nigeria’s transition to civilian rule, the country was still an economic basket case, complete with rampant corruption, crushing external debt, high inflation, and population growth that outpaced GDP expansion. By the time she resigned in frustration three years later, the country’s debt profile had been dramatically improved, inflation had dipped, and the economy was growing faster than 6 percent per year, aided in part by high oil prices. Corruption was still a thorn in the government’s side, but bullish investors w
ere just pricing it into their decisions — and pouring into the country like never before.