Conspiracy Theories: Who Killed Michael Hastings?

Investigative reporter Michael Hastings. Click on photo to see surveillance video of the fiery car crash that killed him.

Editor’s Note: The UpTake generally leaves conspiracy theories to others, but the June car crash that killed prominent investigative journalist Michael Hastings in Los Angeles — captured on a surveillance video that we include here — has sparked a steady drumbeat of questions and speculations as to why someone might have wanted Hastings dead.

Hastings’ widow said this week that she believes her husband’s death was a tragic accident, but that hasn’t quelled the chorus of questions. Hastings was the muckraking reporter whose Rolling Stone blockbuster in 2010 brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, and resulted in his firing by President Barack Obama. Almost exactly three years later, on June 18, Hastings’ car accelerated crazily and crashed into a tree, exploding into flames and killing Hastings, who was 33. According to friends, he had sent them an e-mail the day before, telling them that federal agents were investigating him and that he would be “off the radar” for awhile, pursuing another hot story.

Today, we excerpt (with permission) from a story written by Christian Stork and published on the investigative journalism site, WhoWhatWhy.com. The excerpt concludes with a link to the rest of the original story, which asks whether there might be any connection between Hastings’ death, national security agencies and worries over the intelligence leaks that have plagued the NSA.

From a story originally published at WhoWhatWhy.com:

At the time of his death in a mysterious one-car crash and explosion, journalist Michael Hastings was researching a story that threatened to expose powerful entities and government-connected figures. That story intersected with the work of two controversial government critics—the hacker Barrett Brown and the on-the-run surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Any probe into Hastings’s untimely death needs to take into account this complex but essential background.

A little over 12 hours before his car was incinerated on an LA straightaway on June 18, 2013, Hastings sent out a short email headed, “FBI Investigation, re: NSA.” In it, he said that the FBI had been interviewing his “close friends and associates,” and advised the recipients — including colleagues at the website Buzzfeed — “[It] may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices or related journalism issues.” He added, “I’m onto a big story, and need to go off the radat [sic] for a bit.”

The next day, Hastings went “off the radar” permanently.

Following publication of the email by KTLA, the FBI quickly denied that the Bureau was ever investigating Hastings.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation and ProjectPM — the research wiki that Brown was involved with — are in the process of filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to learn if indeed Hastings was the subject of an FBI probe.

The FBI denial notwithstanding, a number of clues indicate that the proximity of Hastings to Brown and the work of ProjectPM may have been what spawned the purported investigation in the first place.

When the FBI raided the Dallas home of journalist Barrett Brown in March 2012, the travails of the Vanity Fair and Guardian contributor didn’t get much ink — that is, until Michael Hastings published an exclusive on the Brown raid on Buzzfeed.

The story included a copy of the search warrant that revealed why the government was so interested in Brown: Along with colleagues at the research wiki he started, ProjectPM (PPM), Brown was looking into a legion of shadowy cybersecurity firms whose work for the government raised all sorts of questions about privacy and the rule of law.

(Click here to read the rest of the story on WhoWhatWhy.com)

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