Michael Hastings's words have immense power.
A writer at both Buzzfeed and Rolling Stone, Hastings was an award-winning journalist who had no fear in reporting the truth. He's taken on Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines on Benghazi, done an exclusive interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and profiled Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl. Most memorably, Hastings's 2010 scathing article on General Stanley McChrystal created so much backlash that McChrystal was forced to resign.
That kind of history is guaranteed to create some enemies, and Hastings surely had quite a few. It is also likely to make people very, very scared when you're writing your next big story.
On June 17, at 1 p.m., Hastings sent out an email to Buzzfeed staff and a close friend. The subject line read "FBI Investigation, re:NSA," and the email is as follows:
Hey [redacted] the Feds are interviewing my "close friends and associates." 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.
Also: I'm onto a big story, and need to go off the rada[r] for a bit.
All the best, and hope to see you all soon.
Less than 24 hours later, at 4:20 AM, Michael Hastings's car smashed into a tree on Hollywood Avenue and burst into flames. He died immediately.
Whenever a high-profile, the internet is rife with theories. In this case, some have cited several suspicious circumstances in the accident.
Here are some of the more shadowy details:
First, it's obvious that Hastings was working on a big story, though the exact subject is under debate. Considering the title of his email and his last article on BuzzFeed, many (including the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald) think it may have been a piece on PRISM. The Huffington Post thinks he was writing about General Petraeus, while the Los Angeles Times stated that it was on a privacy lawsuit against the Department of Defense and the FBI. They are all big, government-related cases that many would prefer go unexamined.
Second, Hastings reached out to the legal team at Wikileaks for assistance, claiming that that FBI were investigating him. Wikileaks has also claimed that there is a "non-public complication" in Hastings' death, though they have not released more information.
Third, while is it ordinary protocol for police departments to issue a statement that there was no foul play (as the LAPD have done), the FBI hardly ever responds to media attention. However, in this case, they have made an exception. The FBI has released a statement denying that they were ever investigating Hastings, which is interesting considering that after years in his field, Hastings is well aware of what being investigated by the FBI looks like.
Fourth, the car accident itself was pretty bizarre. When the car hit the tree, the engine ejected and was later found over 100 feet away. That kind of ejection is pretty unusual, especially for a Mercedes, and it also meant that Hastings would have had to be driving close to 100 mph, which is much faster than that section of road permits. Here's what the traffic cams caught:
None of this is conclusive evidence, and if viewed individually, they might be dismissed. But put together, along with Hastings' background and the current air of suspicion regarding government secrecy, it's impossible not to wonder.