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 Imam’s Curse” by Evan Osnos, the New Yorker
A Pakistani family in the United States of is accused of financing Taliban militants by the FBI
At dawn on May 14, 2011, more than two dozen federal agents and local police officers converged on a working-class neighborhood near the Miami airport and surrounded a small green-and-white stucco building—Masjid Miami, one of the city’s oldest mosques. Police sealed off a two-block radius, and F.B.I. agents, some armed with AR-15 rifles, assembled outside the door.
Inside, eight men were kneeling for the first prayer of the day. When agents called for them to open up, one of the worshippers, a former police officer, went out and asked them to wait until the prayer was finished. The agents complied, and then they arrested the mosque’s imam, Hafiz Khan, an émigré from a mountainous corner of Pakistan near the Afghan border. Khan was in his late seventies, an albino with thick glasses and a long colorless rush of beard. He had moved to America, with members of his family, in 1994, at the encouragement of a younger brother in Alabama. They became citizens, but Khan spoke no English and rarely left the mosque or a one-room apartment across the street, which he shared with his wife, Fatima. He was known to some of the locals as el viejito barbón—the old bearded man. Kids referred to him as the Santa Claus imam.
“Who Killed the 20th Century’s Greatest Spy?” by Simon Parkin, the Guardian
When Ashraf Marwan fell to his death from the balcony of a London flat, he took his secrets with him. Was he working for Egypt or Israel? And did the revelation of his identity lead to his murder?
This much is certain: Ashraf Marwan, a man some describe as the 20th century’s greatest spy, was alive when he tumbled from the fifth-floor balcony of his £4.4m London flat. The Egyptian businessman landed, shortly after 1.30pm on 27 June 2007, in the private rose garden at number 24 Carlton House Terrace, a street whose former occupants include three prime ministers (Palmerston, Earl Grey and Gladstone) and which lies a few hundred metres from Piccadilly Circus. Overhead, the lunchtime sky was obnoxious with helicopters, swarming above Tony Blair’s Teflon-plated convoy as it carried the prime minister to Buckingham Palace, where he would hand in his resignation. A woman screamed. Someone called the police. The paramedics arrived too late. Marwan died from a ruptured aorta.
“The Road to Damascus” by Sonia Smith, Texas Monthly
In 2012 Houston native Austin Tice heeded a calling to become a journalist in war-ravaged Syria. His photographs, stories, and tweets shed new light on the conflict—until one day they stopped.
Before he ever considered traveling to Syria, before he saw his byline in the Washington Post, and before he made worldwide news, Austin Tice had a revelation in the desert. At 29, he had insatiable curiosity and a surfeit of charisma, and though he generally wasn’t one to entertain visions, he’d been thinking a lot about his future. It was 2011, and he was three months into his deployment at Camp Leatherneck, in southern Afghanistan, with his fellow Marines. Despite being in a war zone, he was restless. The Arab Spring, the wave of democratic uprisings sweeping through Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, had been making headlines; the Islamic world was changing fast, and he felt desperately removed from the action. “So often I feel like I was born in the wrong age, or at least on the wrong continent,” he wrote on Facebook that July. But then, as he spent his downtime between missions gazing at photos of protesters in the streets of the Libyan capital and reading tweets about rebels clashing with forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, an idea came to him.
“Was Tom Hayes Running the Biggest Financial Conspiracy in History?” by Liam Vaughan and Gavin Finch, Bloomberg
Or just taking the fall for one?
Hayes was a phenom at UBS, one of the best the bank had at trading derivatives. All year long, the financial crisis had been good for him. The chaos had let him buy cheaply from those desperate to get out and sell high to the unlucky few who still needed to trade. While most dealers closed up shop in fear, Hayes, with his seemingly limitless appetite for risk, stayed in. He was 28 years old, and he was up more than $70 million for the year.
Now that was under threat. Not only did Hayes have to extract himself from every deal he’d done with Lehman, but he’d also made a series of enormous bets that in the coming days, interest rates would remain stable. The collapse of the fourth-largest investment bank in the U.S. would surely cause those rates, which were really just barometers of risk, to spike. As Hayes examined his tradebook, one rate mattered more than any other: the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, a benchmark that influenced $350 trillion of securities around the world. For traders like Hayes, this number was the Holy Grail. And two years earlier, he had discovered a way to rig it.
“This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain as a Weapon” by Tim Requarth, Foreign Policy
Cutting-edge neural technologies can erase traumatic memories and read people’s thoughts. They could also become the 21st century’s next battleground.
On an otherwise routine July day, inside a laboratory at Duke University, two rhesus monkeys sat in separate rooms, each watching a computer screen that featured an image of a virtual arm in two-dimensional space. The monkeys’ task was to guide the arm from the center of the screen to a target, and when they did so successfully, the researchers rewarded them with sips of juice.
But there was a twist. The monkeys were not provided with joysticks or any other devices that could manipulate the arm. Rather, they were relying on electrodes implanted in portions of their brains that influence movement. The electrodes were able to capture and transmit neural activity through a wired connection to the computers.
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; AFP PHOTO/Christy Wilcox; ETIENNE DE MALGLAIVE/Getty Images; NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images