Weekend Edition Sunday

Conceived as a cross between a Sunday newspaper and CBS' Sunday Morning with Charles KuraltWeekend Edition Sunday features interviews with newsmakers, artists, scientists, politicians, musicians, writers, theologians and historians. The program has covered news events from Nelson Mandela's 1990 release from a South African prison to the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Weekend Edition Sunday debuted on January 18, 1987, with host Susan Stamberg. Two years later, Liane Hansen took over the host chair, a position she held for 22 years. In that time, Hansen interviewed movers and shakers in politics, science, business and the arts. Her reporting travels took her from the slums of Cairo to the iron mines of Michigan's Upper Peninsula; from the oyster beds on the bayou in Houma, La., to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park; and from the kitchens of Colonial Williamsburg, Va., to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In the fall of 2011, NPR National Desk Reporter Audie Cornish began hosting the show.

Every week listeners tune in to hear a unique blend of news, features and the regularly scheduled puzzle segment with Puzzlemaster Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times.

Weekend Edition Sunday is heard on NPR Member stations across the United States and around the globe via NPR Worldwide. The conversation between the audience and the program staff continues throughout the social media world.

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Danger, subterfuge, adrenaline, the thrill of pulling one over on someone. As more agencies use undercover operatives, we ask what it's like to take on a false identity professionally.

Danger, subterfuge, adrenaline — as more agencies use undercover operatives, we take a look at what it's like to take on a false identity professionally.

A recent report out says the agency has made major improvements since Sept. 11, but still needs to boost its ability to collect intelligence.

Those operations can take many forms, but some of the most critical are the undercover missions that require agents to take on new identities and with them, a whole lot of risk. And it's not just the FBI. The New York Times reported last fall that at least 40 federal agencies use undercover agents in some capacity.

This kind of work is glamorized all the time in TV and movies, but behind many of the real life law enforcement success stories are agents who have risked their lives living as someone they aren't.

For the Record this week, we set out for answers: What kind of people are drawn to undercover work? What effect can working undercover have on your psyche? Do men and women approach this work in the same way?

We talked with three people with different views on this topic. (Click on the audio link to hear their full stories.)


Michael Vigil, The Retired Undercover Agent

Vigil is a former undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration who kind of just wants to get back in the game.

"Sometimes you develop these relationships with these traffickers," Vigil says. "You know, they're stone psychopathic killers, but they have great personalities. So, it's very difficult when you have to arrest them and put them in prison for a number of years. ... It is a moral dilemma, because, again sometimes these guys become your family."

Sherrie Moore, The Agent

Moore, senior special agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, is still very much in the game.

"When you go in and you purchase drugs and you come out — there used to be an old Toyota commercial and they would jump up in the air and wave their hands around," Moore says. "That is the feeling that you get when pull one over on somebody. You're amazed at yourself, that you were able to do that, and the adrenaline dump is unbelievable sometimes."

Laura Brodie, The Psychiatrist

Brodie, a criminal and forensic psychologist, helps agents like this come to terms with some of the tough stuff they see and do for a living.

"As an undercover, you're basically kind of an independent operator," Brodie explains. "You do a lot of things on your own. You [are] kind of your own boss, and it's very compelling, and it's very addictive."

My Three Takeaways

First, don't think for a second that you know what an undercover agent might look like, sound like or be like. You never know what kind of person would go in for this sort of work. Sure, there are those uber-masculine, ego-driven tough guys who look like they came out of central casting. But then there's someone like Moore. She's a soft-spoken woman from a small town who claims to look like a soccer mom, but can "skank it up" when she needs to take on a certain identity that gives her credibility on the streets.

Second, I went into this thinking that in order to keep the integrity of an operation, an undercover agent would have to live 24/7 in that identity. That's not always the case. In fact, Vigil told us that he kept two apartments, one where he lived in his false identity as a drug dealer and another apartment where he could go to be himself — a necessary touchstone with reality.

Third, it definitely takes a unique kind of person to do this work, someone who doesn't easily succumb to fear but doesn't take unnecessary risks. Someone with a strong sense of empathy, because that's key to assuming another identity. But at the same time, these folks need to be very good at compartmentalizing their lives. They have to spend time with some very dodgy characters working in a very dark world. They have to know how to shut that off and remember who they really are when the operation is finally over.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Abdullah Abdullah and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, once fierce political rivals, traveled together to Washington last week to undo years of hostility between their predecessor and Obama.

Afghanistan's leaders were in Washington last week asking for more assistance from the U.S. They got what they wanted: President Obama announced he would postpone the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops this year. Those forces are needed to help Afghanistan troops battle the Taliban as the spring
fighting season heats up.

President Ashraf Ghani was accompanied on this trip by Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the Afghan government. They were bitter rivals in Afghanistan's presidential election last year and are now sharing power in a unity government.

Now the two men are working together to undo years of hostility that had built up between their predecessor, former President Hamid Karzai, and Obama.

Abdullah told NPR's Rachel Martin that repairing that relationship is a necessity.
"Because of the position that President Karzai has taken, we missed a lot of opportunities earlier," Abdullah said. "It was a deliberate conduct by President Karzai, which didn't help Afghanistan."

Abdullah and Ghani formed a unity government only after months of contention over the June 2014 election results. Abdullah alleged at the time that the election had been rigged against him, and when preliminary results were released in July, Abdullah declared he would not accept them and threatened to form his own government.

Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a deal between them that took two months to hammer out, with Abdullah taking the newly created position of chief executive. It was almost as if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had to govern together after the contentious campaign of 2012.

Abdullah said that with the serious threats facing Afghanistan, he and Ghani had to put the interest of their country ahead of their egos.

"In the context of Afghanistan, it was absolute necessity that we rally all the votes behind the unity government, so we will be able to deal with the challenge of Taliban, security, and terrorism and all of it, as well as utilize the opportunities which are ahead of us," he told Martin.


Interview Highlights

On the wisdom of Ghani's renewed efforts at peace talks with the Taliban

It's always a good idea to leave the door for talks and negotiations open. Whether this opportunity will be seized by the Taliban or not, that's a different issue. The people of Afghanistan expect us to move through that path; at the same time they expect us to stay in the realm of the clear parameters. No compromise on the rights of people, no compromise on women's rights, and constitution of Afghanistan.

On the conditions that the Taliban needs to meet in order for negotiations to begin

At the end of the day, there are a few things that have to happen: giving up violence, severing links with terrorist groups and respecting the constitution of the country. And no compromise. No compromise on the rights of people, including women's rights. These are clear parameters. The rest of it will be matter for negotiations.

On the difficulty of resolving the presidential election

This was a result of hours and hours of discussions, debate, argument, lots of facilitations by our ... partners. And towards the end of the day, we thought that this is the best solution possible under those circumstances for Afghanistan. It wasn't easy, but now those times are behind us. It's important that we reform our electoral system so Afghanistan is not put in the same situation anymore. That is what is necessary.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Sunday Puzzle....
The challenge is a game of categories based on the word "watch." For each category provided, name something starting with each of the letters W-A-T-C-H.

On-air challenge: The challenge is a game of Categories based on the word "watch." For each category provided, name something in the category starting with each of the letters W-A-T-C-H. For example, parts of the human body would be "waist," "arm," "thigh," "chest" and "head."

Last week's challenge: Take the word "die." Think of two synonyms for this word that are themselves exact opposites of each other. What two words are these? A hint: they have the same number of letters.

Answer: Pass, fail

Winner: Ella Bender of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Next week's challenge: This week's challenge comes from listener Henry Hook. And it's a little tricky. Given a standard calculator with room for 10 digits, what is the largest whole number you can register on it?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week's challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.