By Christian Stork
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.
But First, the Raw Facts
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.”
Date: Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Subject: FBI Investigation, re: NSA
To: [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED]
Hey [5 REDACTED WORDS] 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 radat for a bit.
All the best, and hope to see you all soon.
Here is a video that shows a lateral view of Hastings’s speeding car just before it crashed. (It shows at about 0.07.)
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.