The death of reporter and writer Michael Hastings has shaken the journalism community across the nation, along with fans of the writer’s hard-hitting reporting. Considering the type of articles and books the reporter wrote and the way he died, conspiracy theories were bound to follow.
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who broke the NSA spying story, tweeted: “Michael Hastings’ final article was on Democrats & the NSA stories.” Hastings’ final story published on BuzzFeed, was titled “Why Democrats love to spy on Americans.”
Hastings was driving a 2013 Mercedes C250 coupe when he crashed into a tree on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles at approximately 4:30 am on June 18. One neighbor told a local news crew she heard a sound like an explosion. Another eyewitness said the car’s engine was thrown 50 to 60 yards from the car. There were no other vehicles involved in the accident.
Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, remembered Hastings as a daring reporter. “[He] was really only interested in writing stories someone didn’t want him to write — often his subjects.” He continued: “He knew that there are certain truths that nobody has an interest in speaking, ones that will make you both your subjects and their enemies uncomfortable. They’re stories that don’t get told because nobody in power has much of an interest in telling them.”
Before his untimely death, Hastings was candid about the paranoia that surrounded his journalistic work. He had recently written a piece of CIA operative Andrew Warren, who became paranoid that he was being followed, as well as a Rolling Stone piece published in March titled “Killer Drones” that examined President Obamas’ drone policy.
Hastings wrote in his book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, that he received a death threat from a former McChrystal staff member. “We’ll hunt you down and kill you if we don’t like what you write,” the staffer threatened, according to Hastings, who simply responded: “Well, I get death threats like that about once a year, so no worries.”
Hastings went on to say: “I wasn’t disturbed by the claim. Whenever I’d been reporting around groups of dudes whose job it was to kill people, one of them would usually mention that they were going to kill me.”
The nature of both Hastings work and death could only lead to immediate conspiracy theories. His body has not officially been identified by the coroner’s office because it was so badly burned after it crashed on Hollywood’s Highland Ave. The speed at which Hastings car was traveling has also raised red flags. One reported commented, “Hastings’ wreck might make sense on the freeway, but I doubt he’d be dumb enough to go 100 mph on Highland. He’s not some dumb college kid.”
One theory that is being given a second look is the idea that Hastings car might have been hacked, thus causing the crash. Richard Clarke, former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism told The Huffington Post that what is known about crash is “consistent with a car cyber-attack.” Clark said:
There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers — including the United States — know how to remotely seize control of a car. What has been revealed as a result of some research at universities is that it’s relatively easy to hack your way into the control system of a car, and to do such things as cause acceleration when the driver doesn’t want acceleration, to throw on the brakes when the driver doesn’t want the brakes on, to launch an air bag. You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it’s not that hard. So if there were a cyber attack on the car — and I’m not saying there was,” Clarke added, “I think whoever did it would probably get away with it.
Clarke worked for the State Department under President Ronald Reagan and headed up counterterrorism efforts under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He also served as a special adviser on cyberterrorism to the younger Bush and published a book on the topic, Cyber War.
“I’m not a conspiracy guy”, said Clark. “In fact, I’ve spent most of my life knocking down conspiracy theories. But my rule has always been, you don’t knock down a conspiracy theory until you can prove it . And in the case of Michael Hastings, what evidence is available publicly is consistent with a car cyber-attack. And the problem with that is you can’t prove it.”
One thing about Hasting’s death is certain. Just 15 hours before the crash that took his life, the journalist sent an email to his colleagues, advising them to get legal counsel if they were approached by federal authorities.
The email read: “Hey [redacted] the Feds are interviewing my ‘close friends and associates,'” read the message. “Perhaps if the authorities arrive ‘BuzzFeed GQ’, er HQ, may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices or related journalism issues.” The message also added that he was onto a big story and that he would, “need to go off the radat [radar] for a bit.”
Fifteen hours later, in the early morning of June 18, Hastings was dead.