What Drove Michael Hastings to His Death?

With the media world still reeling from the death of journalist Michael Hastings, there has been a growing fervor to conspiracy theories surrounding the unusual circumstances of his death.

Michael HastingsThe speculation began after a longtime friend—Staff Sergeant Joseph Biggs—released an email Hastings had sent hours before his death. In the email, which Biggs described as “panicked,” Hastings revealed fears that the Feds were investigating him and said he planned to “go off the radar for a bit” due to a new story he was working on.

Hastings’ email was not the only spark for conspiracy theorists. Wikileaks released a series of tweets revealing that just a few hours before his death, Hastings had reached out to Wikileaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson and warned mysteriously this his death would have “serious non-public complications,” a confusing claim that may have suggested some sort of government involvement.

Less than 12 hours later, Hastings would die in a fiery car crash, so explosive that the car engine would be ejected and found nearly 100 feet away. Initial reports speculated that Hastings was driving at 100-plus miles per hour and lost control of his vehicle. Yet given the publicly available evidence and Biggs’ claim that Hastings “drove like a grandma,” many of Hastings’ followers are beginning to ask questions.

Most famous for penning a Rolling Stone article that led to the resignation of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Hastings was not short on enemies, a fact that theorists have fixated on. The topic of the big story Hastings said he was working on is not yet known, but that hasn’t stopped speculation as to whether it was somehow connected to his sudden death. Contradicting earlier reports from the Los Angeles Times, Hastings’ wife recently dispelled rumors that he was researching Jill Kelley, the Florida socialite connected to the Petraeus scandal.

All of the mystery shrouding Hastings’ death has even led to suggestions that his car was subjected to a cyber attack. Former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke bolstered this theory when he told the Huffington Post that Hastings’ crash appeared to be “consistent with a car cyber attack.” Clarke, who worked under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, referred to research done at universities that proved the plausibility of hacking into a car’s computer system to alter acceleration and braking abilities.

Given Hastings’ recent criticism of the NSA and its spy program, it seems only fitting that one of the major theories involves computer surveillance and cyber hacking. The FBI recently released a statement denying any investigation into Hastings—a very unusual move for the bureau, which seldom addresses rumors concerning investigations and had earlier declined to comment.

Other sources of skepticism include an eye-witness who claims to have seen sparks and flames coming from Hastings’ car prior the crash, spurring theorists to wonder about possible tampering with the car’s wiring. In his last article, which now seems quite foreboding, Hastings lauded several prominent journalists for making sacrifices and taking risks to investigate and criticize the government.

Hastings’ car crash may well have been an accident, but given the history of his work and the recent overreaching of the NSA, some questions must be asked and answers demanded.

Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.