The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue

The CIA is not in the habit of discussing its clandestine operations, but the agency’s purpose is clear enough. As then-chief James Woolsey said in a 1994 speech to former intelligence operatives: “What we really exist for is stealing secrets.” Indeed, the agency declined to comment for this article, but over the course of more than 80 interviews, 25 people—including more than a dozen former agency officers—described the workings of a secret CIA unit that employed Groat and specialized in stealing codes, the most guarded secrets of any nation.

The Drugs Don't Work: A Modern Medical Scandal

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug’s life, and even then they don’t give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion.

Kurt Cobain: The Rolling Stone Interview

A shirtless, disheveled Kurt Cobain pauses on the backstage stairway leading to Nirvana’s dressing room at the Aragon Ballroom, in Chicago, offers a visitor a sip of his après-gig tea and says in a drop-deadpan voice, “I’m really glad you could make it for the shittiest show on the tour.”

The Disappeared

Afterward, when the world was exploding around him, he felt annoyed with himself for having forgotten the name of the BBC reporter who told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She called him at home, on his private line, without explaining how she got the number. “How does it feel,” she asked him, “to know that you have just been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini?” It was a sunny Tuesday in London, but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: “It doesn’t feel good.” This is what he thought: I’m a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left, and guessed that the answer was probably a single-digit number. He hung up the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom, at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living-room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.

My Life With Lance Armstrong

I joined Armstrong’s staff in late 2002 as a mechanic, trail builder, and all-around handyman and assistant. At that time, we were friends who had often been on mountain-bike rides together, and he had made a written and verbal commitment to finance my dream of opening an Austin bike shop once my work with him was done. Armstrong soured on me for reasons that had nothing to do with my performance as an employee, and when I was abruptly fired in late 2004, no clear reason was given for my termination. He reneged on the promise about the bike shop and started attacking me, personally and professionally, in a way that ruined my job prospects in Austin. I ended up moving my family to New Zealand to start a new life.

Diary of a Mad Fact-Checker

I work on and off as a fact-checker at the most accurate magazine in America. I think so, at least. The checker assigned to this piece may come up with a list of competitors for that title—and in that case I’ll say that, having either been fact-checked by or been a fact-checker at most of them, she can count this fact as my own original reporting. My editor will probably agree and, if she pushes it, tell her that anyway “most accurate” is a qualitative evaluation, like “best defensive shortstop,” or “hottest freshman.” He won’t say, though it’ll be implicit, that the whole idea of The Oxford American assigning an essay about fact-checking works better if the guy they got to write it works as part of the best research department in the country—which makes me seem like an authority—and that it’d be a shame to lose the superlative when the magazine in question isn’t even going to be named. Superlatives, if you pay attention, are how magazines make stories seem worth reading, and not even the checkers at the most accurate magazine in America can fight off all the spurious ones.

Everything You've Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong

Attendance: up. Dropout rates: plummeting. College acceptance: through the roof. My mind-blowing year inside a “low-performing” school.

Schmooze or Lose

In 1983, Obama, then a recent college graduate who wore a leather jacket and smoked cigarettes, took a job on the periphery of New York’s financial sector: for a year, he worked for Business International, a firm that produced economic trade reports for multinational companies. According to Obama’s mother, he told her that this foray into the corporate world amounted to “working for the enemy,” as David Maraniss recounts in his new biography, “Barack Obama: The Story.” By the time that Obama ran for President, in 2008, his relations with the financial industry had grown warmer, and he attracted more donations from Wall Street leaders than John McCain, his Republican opponent, did. Yet this good feeling did not last, despite the government’s bailout of the banking sector. Many financial titans felt that the President’s attitude toward the “one per cent” was insufficiently admiring, even hostile.

The Truth About the World Trade Center

Seven years ago, when Ground Zero was just a hole in the ground and the world seemed convinced that nothing good would ever be built there, the author began the epic story of the rebuilding of downtown New York. Now, as the “Freedom Tower” reaches its full height, the inside story of boondoggles, self-dealing, common corruption, and why it’s all taken so long.

Unlivable Cities

Why are Chinese cities so monolithic? The answer lies in the country’s fractured history. In the 1930s, China was a failed state: Warlords controlled large swaths of territory, and the Japanese had colonized the northeast. Shanghai was a foreign pleasure den, but life expectancy hovered around 30. Tibetans, Uighurs, and other minorities largely governed themselves. When Mao Zedong unified China in 1949, much of the country was in ruins, and his Communist Party rebuilt it under a unifying theme. Besides promulgating a single language and national laws, they subscribed to the Soviet idea of what a city should be like: wide boulevards, oppressively squat, functional buildings, dormitory-style housing. Cities weren’t conceived of as places to live, but as building blocks needed to build a strong and prosperous nation; in other words, they were constructed for the benefit of the party and the country, not the people.

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