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.

The Doctor, the CIA, and the Blood of Bin Laden
Mattieu Aikins • GQ

The disappearance of the mysterious “Pakistani asset” that helped the CIA zero in on Bin Laden.

The spy games have created an atmosphere of extreme paranoia in Peshawar. Not surprisingly, mentioning Afridi’s name tended to bring an abrupt end to conversation. Almost everyone who knew the doctor well had been questioned — and some arrested — since the incident, and no one was eager to admit any association with the man. More than once, when asked about Afridi, my interview subjects would in turn ask my fixer, in Pashto, whether I was really a journalist. And the thing was, I had to admit that I was acting a little like a spy. It was necessary, for safety’s sake. On my way to meet Afridi’s friends and former colleagues, I would disguise myself in traditional clothing — a long, flowing shirt and baggy pantaloons. I’d have guarded, oblique conversations on the phone and arrange meetings in secluded environments where I could see if I was being followed — and indeed I was, stopped by the ISI twice.

Getty Images

The Next Jeremy Lin?
Jay Caspian Kang • Grantland

On high school basketball star Chris Tang and the pressures of being the “Great Yellow Hope.”

For his accomplishments on the court, Tang got written up in a couple prep outlets, but nothing much more than could be expected from an international kid playing high school ball in Newport News. Colleges began to express their interest. Videos began to surface on YouTube that showed a reckless point guard running up and down the court in a style that was inimitably AAU — Chris Tang, like so many prep phenoms at his position, could bomb from downtown, he could throw no-look passes, and he could take the ball hard to the rim. He couldn’t do much else, but nobody has ever clicked on a YouTube highlight video to watch a player get low on defense, rotate on a pick-and-roll, or bury an open mid-range jumper. Midway through his sophomore year, Tang had become the best Asian or Asian American high school basketball player in the United States. But what did that really mean?

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Got Its Way in Mexico
David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab • New York Times

Corruption within Wal-Mart de Mexico.

But 30 miles away in Mexico City, at the headquarters of Wal-Mart de Mexico, executives were not about to be thwarted by an unfavorable zoning decision. Instead, records and interviews show, they decided to undo the damage with one well-placed $52,000 bribe. The plan was simple. The zoning map would not become law until it was published in a government newspaper. So Wal-Mart de Mexico arranged to bribe an official to change the map before it was sent to the newspaper, records and interviews show. Sure enough, when the map was published, the zoning for Mrs. Pineda’s field was redrawn to allow Wal-Mart’s store. Problem solved.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Rain Forest for Sale
Scott Wallace • National Geographic

How the demand for oil threatens a remote part of the Amazon.

Far beneath the ground, Yasuní harbors yet another treasure that poses an urgent challenge to the precious web of life on the surface: hundreds of millions of barrels of untapped Amazon crude. Over the years, oil concessions have been drawn over the same territory as the park, as economic interests have trumped conservation in the struggle over Yasuní’s fate. At least five active concessions blanket the park’s northern section, and for a poor country like Ecuador the pressure to drill has been almost irresistible. Half of the nation’s export earnings already come from oil, nearly all of it from its eastern provinces in the Amazon.


The Last Stand of Somalia’s Jihad
James Verini • Foreign Policy

Can the Kenya Defense Forces put an end to the Islamist insurgency in Somalia?

Since AMISOM decided to assemble a multinational force to go after al-Shabab in 2010, taking Kismayo has been viewed as the endgame, at least of the military phase of the mission. The city was al-Shabab’s base and the port its economic engine, providing an estimated $35 million to $50 million a year to the group. And as the interests of the United States and European Union, Somalia’s largest bilateral and multilateral donors, respectively, have shifted in the last few years from targeting high-value al Qaeda in East Africa figures to degrading al-Shabab and shoring up Somalia, Kismayo began to be viewed as a priority by them too. In the West, the capture of the city is now seen not just as a win against Islamist political extremism, but a symbolic victory in the battle for what may be the world’s most dysfunctional country.


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