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.
“A Spy in the Machine” by Amar Toor and Russell Brandom, the Verge.
How a brutal government used cutting-edge spyware to hijack one activist’s life.
“Bahrain’s government has a long and dubious human rights record, especially when it comes to free speech. Even the smallest forms of dissent are regularly met with severe punishment, and the crackdown has only intensified following the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. This month, a prominent activist was sentenced to six months in prison over tweets that were critical of the country’s defense and interior ministries. Bahrain has also been a longtime ally of the United States and particularly the UK, a relationship the kingdom has maintained despite ongoing unrest.
That’s why Moosa fled to London. If he couldn’t continue fighting from within Bahrain, he could at least do it from Bahrain’s closest and historically most important global partner. (Bahrain was effectively a British protectorate until 1971.) He was granted asylum in 2006, his wife and child joined him a year later, and for a while, it seemed as if he was finally safe.”
“From Gitmo to an American Supermax, the Horrors of Solitary Confinement” by Ted Conover, Vanity Fair.
The rap on Guantánamo is that it’s a glaring exception to the American system of justice. But the controversial use of solitary confinement both at the camp and in U.S. prisons tells a different story. Ted Conover reports on the psychological damage punitive isolation inflicts upon Guantánamo and American prisoners alike.
“Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman confined at Guantánamo for more than six years, spent his last 438 days on a hunger strike and, therefore, was placed in solitary, as all hunger strikers have been. (There have been a number of major hunger strikes by detainees at Guantánamo, the most recent of which is ongoing.) Sami al-Hajj said he saw prisoners around him — an Algerian, a Sudanese, a Liberian — lose their sanity in solitary, and he worried about his own. His status as a professional witness — that is, someone whose career had been as a journalist — helped him cope, he believes. It made him want to endure so that later he could report.
But solitary took a psychological toll: ‘I liked to laugh, and now I rarely laugh. Before prison I didn’t cry easily, but now I cry quickly.’ He no longer enjoys food; he is frightened when the power goes out at his home in Qatar, because it reminds him of dark cells; he is frightened by slamming doors, which remind him of cell doors closing.”
“From Amateur to Ruthless Jihadist in France” by Rukmini Callimachi and Jim Yardley, the New York Times.
Chérif and Said Kouachi’s path to the Paris attack at Charlie Hebdo.
“Much remains unclear about their lives. But thousands of pages of legal documents obtained by The New York Times, including minutes of interrogations, summaries of phone taps, intercepted jailhouse letters and a catalog of images and religious texts found on the laptops of Chérif Kouachi and Mr. Coulibaly, reveal an arc of radicalization that saw them become steadily more professional and more discreet.
They shaved regularly, eschewing the conspicuous beards worn by many Islamists. They dressed in jeans and basketball sneakers, offering no outward hint of their plans or jihadist beliefs.”
“The Whole Haystack” by Mattathias Schwartz, the New Yorker.
The N.S.A. claims it needs access to all our phone records. But is that the best way to catch a terrorist?
“In Washington, many people blamed 9/11 on a ‘wall’ between intelligence gathering and criminal investigations. In a report on pre-9/11 failures, the Department of Justice criticized the F.B.I.’s San Diego field office for not making counterterrorism a higher priority. Two of the hijackers — Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar — took flying lessons in San Diego and attended a mosque where the imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, had been the target of an F.B.I. investigation. They lived for a time in an apartment that they rented from an F.B.I. informant, and Mihdhar made phone calls to a known Al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. But the F.B.I. wasn’t solely at fault. The C.I.A. knew that Mihdhar had a visa to travel to the U.S., and that Hazmi had arrived in Los Angeles in January, 2000. The agency failed to forward this information to the F.B.I.
Three years after 9/11, the size of San Diego’s Joint Terrorism Task Force had tripled. In California, hundreds of local police became ‘terrorism liaison officers,’ trained to observe anomalous activity that could presage an attack. The San Diego ‘fusion center’ spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on computers and monitors, including fifty-five flat-screen televisions, which officials said were for ‘watching the news.’ This was one of seventy-seven such centers nationwide, at a cost of several hundred million dollars. The F.B.I. office established a ‘field-intelligence group,’ a special unit that gathered information about domestic terrorism threats.”
“Our Men in Sanaa” by Evan Hill and Laura Kasinof, Foreign Policy.
As Yemen burns, questions remain about whether the government was playing a double game in the fight against AQAP.
“In recent years, U.S. officials have said they are focused on killing or capturing a small cadre of AQAP fighters in the hope of “mitigating” the threat of an attack on the United States or its allies while steering clear of Yemen’s messy internal wars. This has fostered a perception that AQAP is strictly hierarchical — made up of “a couple of dozen” key figures, in then-counterterrorism director John Brennan’s 2011 description — and can be contained with periodic drone strikes. In September 2014, President Barack Obama declared the country a counterterrorism success story and a model for other conflicts.
But recent events and Yemenis themselves tell a different story — one in which consecutive U.S. administrations have failed to properly understand this al Qaeda affiliate, and as a consequence have been unsuccessful at containing the deadly threat it poses.”
Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images; John Moore/Getty Images; Bertrand Guay; Jim Watson