Hastings’ Lessons From the Grave—Have We Learned Anything?

Investigative journalist Michael Hastings died in a mysterious car accident two years ago this month. Will we ever know the truth about his death? Photo credit: Lord Jim / Flickr
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Two years ago this month, the young and ambitious investigative journalist Michael Hastings died in a mysterious, fiery car crash. Investigators and journalists have uncovered some startling revelations regarding the accident in the past two years, though the full truth of what really happened to Hastings could have been buried with him.

Hastings was known for challenging conventional wisdom and investigating authority at the highest levels. With a Polk Award-winning article in Rolling Stone, he brought down General Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and US Forces-Afghanistan.

At the time of his death, Hastings had been working on a story about CIA Director John Brennan. The president of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (“Stratfor”), a CIA contract global intelligence firm, has described Brennan in secret emails as someone on a “witch hunt” of investigative journalists. Brennan, of course, has denied these claims: a CIA spokesperson told reporter Kimberly Dvorak in an email that notwithstanding WikiLeaks, “any suggestion that Director Brennan has ever attempted to infringe on constitutionally-protected press freedoms is offensive and baseless.”

Is it possible that Brennan felt threatened by the content of Hastings’ would-be story? If yes, how would the CIA have responded to such an expose ?

Car Hacking—Reality, not Theory

At the time of Hastings’ death, counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke told The Huffington Post that it was possible that Hastings’ car had been hacked; that the known details of the crash were consistent with a car cyber attack.

“There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers”—including the United States—know how to remotely seize control of a car, Clarke said.

At the time, however, Clarke’s suggestion received little attention from the mainstream media. In the past two years, the issue of automobile cybersecurity has entered the mainstream arena.

Since 2013, scientists have proven the possibility of hacking a car, and lawmakers are revealing the lack of cybersecurity against these types of threats built into today’s digital cars.

“Your car may have as many as 30 separate electronic control units, some of them built for wireless access. Hackers have shown that they can disconnect brakes, kill acceleration and more—although most hacks currently require direct, wired access to the car’s systems. Even so, a lab technician turned off our test car while we were driving it—from a cell phone,” Chris Meyer, Vice President of Consumer Reports, said in an email to WhoWhatWhy.

At the annual hacker conference Defcon2013, just two months after Hastings’ death, computer security experts Christopher Valasek and Charlie Miller successfully hacked two cars, accessing almost all of the car’s electronic control units.

Video demos pre-recorded for the conference showed Miller and Valasek able to jerk the steering wheel, disable the car’s brakes, accelerate, manipulate the seat belt, turn off the engine, mess with both interior and exterior lights, honk the horn, and program the console to read that the car had a full tank of gas when it didn’t, according to CNET.

After this successful demonstration of a computer-generated car hack, lawmakers sent inquiries to car manufacturers about the cybersecurity of their automobiles. The results do not provide much of a sense of security—or cybersecurity—to drivers on the road today.

In February 2014, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released the report Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk. Sixteen major automobile manufacturers participated in the report, and four major trends are as follows:

Here are the four trends found in the report:

Nearly 100 percent of vehicles on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.

Most automobile manufacturers were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents.

Security measures to prevent remote access to vehicle electronics are inconsistent and haphazard across the different manufacturers.

Only two automobile manufacturers were able to describe any capabilities to diagnose or meaningfully respond to an infiltration in real-time; most of these manufacturers rely on technologies that cannot diagnose or respond to infiltration in real-time at all.

The information on the very real possibility of carhacking raises the question: was Michael Hastings’ car hacked? Is it possible that someone was trying to shut him up?

Michael’s Chilling Apprehensions During Last Hours

“This was not an accident.” In the immediate days leading up to his death, Hastings was sure that his car had been tampered with and was scared for his life. Photo credit: Lord Jim / Flickr

“This was not an accident.” In the immediate days leading up to his death, Hastings was sure that his car had been tampered with and was scared for his life. Photo credit: Lord Jim / Flickr

Hastings’ friends and family time and time again described him as “fearless.” In the week leading up to June 18, 2013, however, Hastings was panicked, and openly expressed concerns to his friends and colleagues that his Mercedes had been tampered with.

Hastings showed up at a neighbor’s apartment just 24 hours before his death and “urgently asked to borrow her Volvo,” saying that he was afraid to drive his own car but that he wanted to leave town, Hastings’ friend and neighbor Jordanna Thigpen told LA Weekly.

Sixteen hours before his death, Hastings alerted friends and colleagues, including WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson, that the FBI was investigating him.

“The Feds are interviewing my ‘close friends and associates,’” Hastings wrote to colleagues at Buzzfeed, at 12:56pm on June 17.

“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 radar for a bit,” he wrote. He signed the email that he “hoped to see you all soon.”

“As soon as I got [that email] I was nervous my whole body was shaking, I had goosebumps,” friend Joe Biggs told WhoWhatWhy.

And then, at 4:20am on June 18, on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles, Hastings’ silver Mercedes C250 exploded and hit a palm tree. There were no apparent attempts to brake before the collision.

“The whole surrounding circumstances still eat away at me all the time,” Biggs told WhoWhatWhy. “A car doesn’t just have a flash underneath before it crashes. The neighbors said that they heard an explosion—a loud explosion—then the car hit the tree. If a car hits a tree, it will pin the engine going into the trunk of the tree into the base or frame of the car. Instead, the engine was ejected, at the path of travel, heading down the road,” he said.

“I’ve never seen an explosion like that,” Terry Hopkins, a former US Navy military policeman who served in Afghanistan, told WhoWhatWhy two years ago. “I’ve seen military vehicles explode, but never quite like that. Look, here’s a reporter who brought down a general. He’s sending out emails saying he’s being watched. It’s four in the morning and his car explodes? Come on, you have to be naive not to at least consider it wasn’t an accident.”

The Immediate Aftermath

In the days immediately following his death, the FBI promptly responded to inquiries from the press about whether or not Hastings had been under investigation—a rare instance of punctuality and seeming transparency from the agency.

“At no time was journalist Michael Hastings under investigation by the FBI,” said agency public affairs specialist Laura Eimiller.

This is clearly inconsistent with what Hastings himself thought and wrote about in the email to his friends and colleagues. VICE News investigative reporter Jason Leopold and MIT Doctoral Candidate Ryan Shapiro also thought the FBI’s official position was questionable. In 2013, Leopold and Shapiro spearheaded a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to open documents that could reveal whether or not Hastings was under investigation by the FBI.

The lawsuit revealed that the FBI had misled the public: Michael Hastings was on the FBI’s radar—if not under complete investigation—for “controversial reporting.”

“The FBI was investigating someone’s reporting. Clearly it wasn’t just isolated to Hastings, so… that’s a big fucking deal,” Leopold told WhoWhatWhy.

Investigating reporting threatens investigative reporting, Leopold believes. The revelation that law enforcement agencies will investigate journalists’ reporting has a “chilling effect on newsgathering and on the ability for journalists and sources to speak” Leopold said.

Leopold said he thinks that’s why even two years after Michael’s death there are still government officials investigating journalists. “Unfortunately,” Leopold said, “it’s really unclear what these government agencies are doing behind the scenes… That’s kind of scary.”

Possibility of Foul Play

Despite his misgivings about secret government activities, Leopold doesn’t necessarily think Hastings’ death was murder.

“I believe Michael Hastings died in a car crash, I want to make that clear, I have absolutely no thoughts about if there was anything suspicious.” Leopold said. “I’m well aware that people try to make the connection ‘oh he’s investigating Brennan and then he died,’ I’m not on that page.”

Similarly, Hastings’ wife, Elise Jordan, told CNN interviewer Piers Morgan that her husband’s death was a “tragic accident.”

Officials from the LAPD have also publicly stated that there had been no indication of foul play in their investigation of the crash, but, requesting anonymity, a family member of Hastings previously expressed dissatisfaction with the LAPD’s investigation to WhoWhatWhy.

“The LAPD has done a really sloppy job investigating his case, and they were hoping for a mother lode of drugs in his system. When they didn’t get it in the toxicology lab results (science!), they had to insert speculation throughout their field report to compensate for their lack of an investigation. It’s so irresponsible,” the family member wrote in an email.

Investigators did consider the possibility of suicide, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department report, although Hastings was not known to have had any past suicide attempts or ideations, the report said. In response to the suggestion of suicide as the cause of death, friends of Hastings told WhoWhatWhy that they highly doubt it.

“No, he had a good family, he loved everybody in his family. I don’t think he would allow himself to do something like that because he knew that would affect so many people,” Biggs told WhoWhatWhy.

“The world lost a great reporter, he was a fearless journalist who had bigger balls than most people could ever imagine,” Biggs said. “I think the whole case should be revisited honestly.”

Panorama credits:

​Computer Center: Army Cyber / Flickr , Mercedes Benz C250: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima / Wikimedia

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0 responses to “Hastings’ Lessons From the Grave—Have We Learned Anything?”

  1. Randy Bramstedt says:

    Shortly after Michael Hastings death, I and another person(s) looked at radar data from the early morning hours on the date of Michael’s death. If someone was to look at radar data from the early morning hours of that fateful night, they would see what I witnessed. The skies of the greater downtown area and San Fernando valley had conspicuously little air traffic. It was mostly devoid of air traffic except for domestic air cargo carriers like UPS, Fedex, etc. What was very notable was a sole general aviation aircraft looping and hovering for hours in the specific area that Michael Hasting was traveling in the early morning hours. The aircraft headed southbound down Highland Ave. behind Hastings’ vehicle in the immediate minutes before the crash at 4:18 a.m. or so. This aircraft trailed Hastings’ vehicle at approx. 1 mile at an altitude of about 1200-1500 feet. After the crash, the aircraft hovered or held position at a location just south of the crash for a while. It hovered south of the intersection of the 10 and 100 freeways. After a while, the aircraft traveled counterclockwise around downtown L.A. as it descended. It disappeared from radar at the location of the LAPD Hooper Helipad or adjacent U.S. government agency helipad nearby.

    I found this very strange since the skies around downtown were so empty and the only aircraft on radar was in the immediate area of Hastings’ described movements that night. The sudden movement of the aircraft south on Highland Ave. in the minutes before the crash was more than coincidence in my opinion.

  2. […] 7 dump strengthens the case against John Brennan, the CIA director that Stratfor stated was on a witch hunt against journalists when Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings was […]

  3. […] 7 dump strengthens the case against John Brennan, the CIA director that Stratfor stated was on a witch hunt against journalists when Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings was […]

  4. Randy Bramstedt says:

    That was not the finding of the coroner. Traces of marijuana were claimed to be found in his body tissue indicating a prior use of marijuana. The official report indicated that they did NOT have any evidence to indicate impairment at the time of the accident and that he was most likely not under the influence at the time of the accident (murder).

  5. Randy Bramstedt says:

    Interesting that there were no skid marks at the accident scene. Also, the LA fire department had trouble extinguishing the fire which burned with white flames. As can be seen in video, the fire intensified and violently expanded when the fire fighters doused it with water. This can be seen on Internet video. You can see the firefighters reaction of puzzlement too. The part of the burning wreck in the front of the vehicle was not a gasoline fire. White sparks and flames could be seen clearly. Gasoline burns deep orange. Foam had to be used. Very strange.

  6. Bryan Webb says:

    Tom Cruise’s character flew an F-14 in Top Gun. The Navy hasn’t used F-16’s, at least on aircraft carriers, anyway.

  7. Kaf0375 says:

    Recognize that he had amphetamines and marijuana in his system, obviously impairing his driving and judgment (i.e.; paranoia). He was an addict, not a victim, as his family implored him to attend rehab. He was a typical sideline reporter, Monday morning quarterback who had no educated foundation or experience in subjects he wrote about. He viewed them from afar. He was about as credible as Tom Cruise would be teaching you how to fly a F-16 because he was in Top Gun.

    • DeplorableFullMetalSquirrel says:

      He was embedded, not on the sidelines.

    • Gregg R says:

      Huh?? Now come on. You don’t truly believe that.

      No matter what you say, people that “truly” knew Michael knows he was taken out. Everyone interviewed is just covering their butts by saying “it was an accident.”

      No. This was about as much an accident as JFK’s little drive through Dallas ending badly was.

      This fella was at the top of the food chain when it came to Investigative Reporting. You don’t investigate the people he did his stories on ……. without knowing your way around.

      ANYONE who knew him personally or through his pieces would all use the same words: those words are “Fearless” – “Relentless” – “Dogged Determination” etc etc etc.

    • Jason Saint says:

      They didn’t fly any F-16s in Top Gun. I bet Tom rips through the sky in an F-14 though. I think he indeed does have his pilot’s license as well lol.

      Recognize that;
      the engine of the car was ejected from the vehicle before it ever made impact with the tree,
      his Mercedes did in fact, have the capacity to be hacked… (especially by the people he was possibly going to be airing dirty laundry for in the near future).

      Hastings had believed his car was physically tampered with only days before this very weird, single-car accident that consists of details like – – reported explosions, fireman confusing fires and engines that throw themselves out of engine compartments contrary to the common understanding of physics. On top of that, his toxicology was negative for levels consistent with being impaired at the time the accident occurred…

    • Dave O'Reilly says:

      Whether or not he was addicted to anything, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have hacked someone off. And quite honestly if you had a high profile relative who had some serious enemies, you’d probably run around telling some story to keep any danger away from your family. If in fact he was murdered that could make the family a target.

  8. Randy Bramstedt says:

    What happened to my post from yesterday regarding Michael Hastings? It disappeared.

  9. gbossa_25 says:

    Simple answer is that the laws of physics don’t cease to exist in support of the “official story.” Whether that’s the 9/11 fantasy that building 7 dropped at free fall speed into its own footprint due to fires, or whether its Hastings’ car’s engine flying 100 feet forward after hitting the tree, rather than the car wrapping itself around said engine and the tree. This one is right there with the “magic bullet” theory in terms of plausibility. Our military-intelligence-security state is a criminal enterprise run by psychopaths who wouldn’t know how to tell the truth if they stepped in it.

  10. soapboxgirl says:

    Michael Hasting popped into my head the other day for some reason. I followed this story very closely in the immediate aftermath of the car crash, but it fell off my radar at some point. I always thought the crash was suspicious. How does a car explode like that and eject the engine…and given the fact that he already suspected someone was messing with his car to the point that he wanted to borrow a friend’s? It never smelled right.

    I’m very distraught at the fact that the FBI was keeping an eye on him because of his investigative journalism. What bothers me most is that real investigative journalism–the kind that makes the establishment/government squirm–is pretty much dead, and it makes me wonder if it’s because other investigative journalists have caved into the pressure from the establishment to quash their stories and investigations. It seems to me like Hastings wasn’t going bow down…and paid for it with his life.

  11. (Comment by reader @begoodtome4sake) definitely ..he was killed and he knew he was in danger.

  12. FBI=villains, Homeland Security=villains, Patriot Act=villains,
    CIA=villains, Major media= puppets of villains, Dept of Justice=high
    paid villains, in other words an honest man has no chance to do anything
    about villains because of all the villains!!!!!!!

  13. JayGoldenBeach says:

    “…any suggestion that Director Brennan has ever attempted to infringe on
    constitutionally-protected press freedoms is offensive and baseless.”

    Overthrowing democracies to install puppet leaders; recruiting/supporting death squads to kill trade union organisers – aka protecting American corporate interests, for starters. It takes a child-like naivete to believe these agencies suddenly behave themselves on U.S. soil.

    • soapboxgirl says:

      “It takes a child-like naivete to believe these agencies suddenly behave themselves on U.S. soil.”

      AMEN!!

  14. Steve Sperdacion says:

    I don’t get why Hastings was seemingly so smart but he trusted his obvious CIA spy wife.

    • Steve Sperdacion says:

      and also, if hastings was worried his car was tampered with, why get in it in the first place? I’d get a new car or use public transportation if I had those worries.

    • Farleyagain says:

      He did get a new car. The mercedes was brand new.

  15. cstahnke says:

    Most people think that professional killers are fictions–they are not. People get killed all the time and techniques have evolved so that they can mimic heart attacks and so on. If they killed Hastings through hacking the car or putting in a remote control device they must have been desperate because it looks, on the surface to be an obvious assassination without subtlety. They were either desperate to stop him or, more likely, the authorities wanted to send a message to other journalists. People who read history understand that when the power stakes are high intrigue, conspiracies, killings, and so on are part and parcel of power-relations at the top. Obviously Hastings isn’t the only journalist to attack the power-elite so why him? Maybe his juicy stuff was very very juicy and would filter through the wall of denial that 90% of Americans have about the power-elite–I don’t know.

    • JayGoldenBeach says:

      I can think of only a couple other journos in recent history who have articulately and accurately called out senior govt officials and/or agencies. Hastings, obviously. Glenn Greenwald and Seymour Hersh – both have been subjected to serious harassment, threats, etc. Greenwald and Hersh focus more on The Govt overall, and sometimes individuals. However, Hastings enjoyed busting balls which could be perceived as more personal than institutional. Just my thought. Cheers.

    • Farleyagain says:

      Breitbart.

    • David says:

      Gary Webb…..

  16. lofty1 says:

    Why was the expose on CIA Director John Brennan, that Hastings was working on prior to his death, never published in Rolling Stone as was promised? Who benefited by that story never seeing the light of day?

    • JayGoldenBeach says:

      After 50-plus years of spilling blood and wrecking other countries while protecting American *corporate* interests, there are plenty of spooks with plenty of secrets.

  17. sthomag says:

    I have no problem believing that somebody, probably in the government or hired by someone in the government, murdered Hastings. However, the “car hack” theory doesn’t hold water.

    While one may be able to hack into some cars’ computers, the most you could do with most of them would be to operate the lights, turn off the engine, mess with the gauges, etc. On almost all cars there is a wholly mechanical link between the accelerator pedal and the throttle, between the pedal and the brakes, and especially between the steering wheel and the steering rack. Some cars do have an electronic throttle (I don’t know if Hasting’s car was one), but the brakes can easily overpower the strongest engine and bring a car to a halt. Turning off the engine on cars with hydraulic steering would make the steering a lot harder, but it would slow the car down, also. Some cars have electric steering, but it’s not affected by the computer, and there’s no way to actually steer the car that way.

    The reports talk of an “explosion” beneath his car before the accident. That doesn’t sound like anything you could do with the car’s computer. I think more conventional sabotage is by far the likeliest culprit.

    • Steve Sperdacion says:

      more likely he was killed somewhere else then body burned and put in this car which was remote controlled. His body was burned beyond recognition but they still got fingerprints proving it’s him? come on.

    • Farleyagain says:

      Wouldn’t it be awesome if it wasn’t him? THAT would be a great ending.

    • tionico says:

      you dind’t read the whole article. It talked of demonstrations of hackers (under controlled conditioins, to be sure, but real life situations) being able to control engine speed, steering, brakes. What else do you need? In cars as new as the Benz, almost all are “drive by wire”, in other words, the days of throttle cables and rods are gone. Pedal operates sensor, sensor tickles computer, computer acutates servo, servo applies throttle. Break the link between pedal and computer, subsititue remotely generated signal, throttle valve changes position to whatever the coputer now tells it to do…. and that car has plenty of power. Brakes> Remember all are now ABS, most computer controlled. Simply supply the signal that tells the ABS controller the wheels locking up, it will release the brake pressure to them…. no brakes. Simple.Steering? Again, easy. but, after the full throttle application by remote, disconnecting the brake actuators, and the remote triggered explosion under the car, Hastings would have been either scared out of his wits, dead, or so incapacitated by the explosion he could easily lose steering control AND be unable to see where he was headed. The sxplosion could have thrust the car one way, his auto-reactions would have corrected, and thrown the whole thing into that tree. This article, and others citing different sources, paints a very plausible picture of what happened. I know those Benz cars… every detail explained here is possible.

    • Farleyagain says:

      You must have better brakes than I do.

    • Ron Rushburg says:

      Mercedes has fly-by-wire accelerator!

  18. steve button says:

    And they all just think his frantic emails about his car were just coincidence? Whats the feeling on that – threats, pay-offs?

  19. Gerald Perdue says:

    Here is an interesting timeline:
    Boston bombing – April 15, 2013
    May 20, 2013 – Edward Snowden goes to Hong Kong
    June 7, 2013 – Michael Hastings last column is published at Buzzfeed. The title is
    ” Why Democrats Love to Spy on Americans”.
    June 18, 2013 – Michael Hastings was killed in car crash.
    June 23, 2013 – Edward Snowden flew to Moscow.
    Strange days we live in.

  20. Kyndr says:

    Let’s not forget that Britebart and Clancy died under less than believable circumstances, and there is compelling evidence to suggest that all three deaths are related.

    • I think you would like to listen to the Jeff Rense interview of Kay Griggs on You Tube…. she tells it like it is and most people in this country just don’t have a clue.

  21. ShirlB says:

    It’s important to remember the uproar around John Brennan’s confirmation as DCI. Despite the vigorous opposition, he was confirmed anyway. Before that, he was the man who sat at President Obama’s side one day a week to help him choose who would be extra-judicially executed by drone overseas. A number of death dealing “accidents” have been so classified and turned out to be foul play. I offer one example: Enrico Mattei (hope I’ve spelled his last name correctly). He headed the post WW II Italian oil company and had managed it so well that there was a danger of competition with the Seven Sisters. Take a look at his Wikipedia page. An investigation decades later showed that his plane was sabotaged. Some of the investigators also lost their lives when they uncovered the truth.

  22. Westcoastdeplorable says:

    From what I’ve read here & elsewhere, and how the story was handled by the local press, my guess is he was remote-controlled. Mercedes don’t blow up like that. And why no skid marks?

    • Ed. Kats says:

      Dear W.C.liberal. Apparently you missed such important explanation about what possibly could be done to the car and consequences of committed action. Please, don’t forget about the situation involving CIA and sad history about this agency. There’s no skid marks will be present at the seen of accident. All it needs, just to suddenly without driver knowledge turn steering will and divert direction of the car toward – well – in this horrifying case – THE PALM TREE. “Your car may have as many as 30 separate electronic control units, some of them built for wireless access. Hackers have shown that they can disconnect brakes, kill acceleration and more—although most hacks currently require direct, wired access to the car’s systems. Even so, a lab technician turned off our test car while we were driving it—from a cell phone,” Chris Meyer, Vice President of Consumer Reports, said in an email to WhoWhatWhy.”. On the other hand, I’m fully agree with you about possibility “he was remote-controlled”. In such a case the presents of implants should be discovered in Mr. Hasting’s brain. Once so, this signal reflected desire command could be amplified then transmitted into the implanted brain for execution. BUT. It also have a future once we are dealing with the Subconsciousness and Consciousness. There’s no such a thing that can control consciousness. It just not existent. So. We, who can – always may cancel any remotely generated signal and simply ignore command. Tragically we can’t cancel that type of signals which being used by transmitting them only in subconscious because mechanical part of the brain will reflect incoming signals to the part of our body where this signal belong. Bu amplifying frequencies of such signals – the controllers may executes horrifying acts of PHYSICAL TORTURE. etc… Very SAD. You may find more about my family simply type in GOOGLE ED KATS and FAMILY.

    • Steve Sperdacion says:

      wc obviously meant the car was remote controlled not the guy driving it.

  23. SRVES339 says:

    There will not be an investigation.

    Take a good look at the car… there is a very clear message there for any who dare.

    Oh, and his wife completely changed her story (tap on the shoulder perhaps) after coming out swinging immediately after the crash.