Created: Mon, 08 Jul 2013 07:40:00 PST
Updated: Mon, 08 Jul 2013 07:44:36 PST
It’s been nearly three weeks since Michael Hastings was killed in a fiery car accident in West Los Angeles. The award-winning journalist earned his stripes as a wartime reporter and captured fame with his 2010 Rolling Stone story that forced General Stanley McChrystal to resign as commander of the US forces in Afghanistan.
According to City News Service Hastings, 33, “was driving south on Highland Avenue when he apparently lost control of the compact (2013 Mercedes Benz CLK250) near Melrose Avenue and crashed into palm trees in the median about 4:20 a.m. Tuesday (June 18). The car's engine reportedly ended up about 200 feet away from the impact site.”
An eyewitness at the scene, Jose, employed at nearby business ALSCO Inc said, the car was travelling very fast and he heard a couple explosions shortly before the car crashed.
In fact, the explosion was so intense that it took the LA County assistant corner, Ed Winter, two days to identify the burned-beyond recognition body of Hastings. Officials confirm that an autopsy has been performed, but the cause of death is pending. LAPD media spokesperson Lieutenant Andrew Neiman said, “it will take several weeks to get the toxicology results.” By stark contrast, in Italy, ‘Sopranos’ star James Gandolfini’s family received the toxicology report within a few days.
Despite the intensity of the single car accident, an LAPD statement determined that there was “no foul play” involved.
As news of the journalist’s death reached family and work colleagues another story emerged, one that would seemingly contradict the LAPD’s verdict. It quickly surfaced that Hastings reached out to Wikileaks attorney Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before his death claiming the FBI was investigating him.
In an atypical response the FBI Los Angeles-based bureau spokeswoman Laura Eimiller emailed media emphatically denying their agency was looking into Mr. Hastings background.
Once the back and forth commenced, friends of Hastings posted the last frantic email they would receive from their colleague. It read:
“Subject: FBI Investigation, re: NSA -Hey (redacted names) — 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. Michael”
After learning about Hastings death, Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed.com, released a statement saying the staff was “shocked and devastated by the news that Michael Hastings is gone. Michael was a great, fearless journalist with an incredible instinct for the story, and a gift for finding ways to make his readers care about anything he covered from wars to politicians.”
One particular passage in Hastings book, “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan,” revealed that a former McChrystal staff member made a death threat. “We'll hunt you down and kill you if we don't like what you write,” the unnamed staffer said. Hastings coolly retorted: “Well, I get death threats like that about once a year, so no worries.”
He later wrote; “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.”
Disturbing details surrounding the actual accident
After reading accounts of the car crash and examining the scene of the accident erroneous details were hard to overlook. Stories discussed the road as narrow, not true, it’s a four-lane road with a large median dividing traffic. Some reports said there was a curve in the road, also not true; in fact it’s straight freeway-to-freeway. Also, there was no damage to the median curb, only fire discoloration. But the most significant missing evidence was the absence of any skid marks—even though the car made a 60-degree turn into a palm tree.
Research of this topic reveals a new angle to this story, namely —Boston Brakes.
This theory was explained by a former Marine Gordon Duff who refers to the “Boston Brakes” technique, in which “drive by wire” cars, specifically a Mercedes Benz, can be manipulated remotely to simulate an out-of-control accident, according to his Veterans Today story (The 2010 story is a must read). The story details are eerily similar to Hastings fiery accident scene as there were no skid marks.
Adding credence to the possible car-hacking scenario is former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke. After news broke on the Hastings car accident, he confirmed the “drive by wire” concept.
Clarke told The Huffington Post that a single-vehicle crash is “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.”
Specifically, a 2010 research project conducted by the University of California at San Diego and the University of Washington Engineering Departments demonstrated how easy it was to override a vehicle’s computer system and drive it remotely. A request for an on/off camera interview by this reporter was declined.
Clarke’s interview with The Huffington Post explains, “You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it's not that hard.”
Another significant detail pointed out by some members of law enforcement, is the intensity of the fire inside the car. It’s highly unusual since gasoline generally doesn’t burn that hot. Reviewing video footage from the scene, the intensity of the fire resembles a “thermite” burn.
No matter how you slice this highly suspicious car accident, a Mercedes is not going to explode into flames without assistance. Car aficionados say fires in new cars happen for three main reasons, “running the engine out of oil, running the engine out of coolant, or a mammoth car mangling accident, that leaves the hot side of the battery to short out against the frame before it reaches the fuse panel.”
First, thanks to science and mathematics accident scene re-construction analysts should be able to “somewhat” calculate things like the dynamic energy of the impact in addition to the gravity force required for separating the engine/transmission from the vehicle.
The 2013 Mercedes Hastings drove that fateful night in June is equipped with MBRACE (emergency call system), SOS telephone and the Voice Control System. It is similar to the ONSTAR program, and can directly link the driver to a representative in case of emergencies. The Mercedes manual reads: “Information about electronic data acquisition in the vehicle (Including notice pursuant to California Code § 9951). If your vehicle is equipped with MBRACE, data is transmitted in the event of an accident.”
The manual continues: “The wireless devices of this vehicle comply with Part 15 of the FCC Rules Operation and is subject to the following two conditions: 1) These devices may not cause harmful interference, and 2) These devices must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.
Changes or modifications not expressly approved by the party responsible for compliance could void the user’s authority to operate the equipment.”
In a statement from Mercedes, Olivia C. states; “At this time, the police are still conducting their investigation into this tragedy. They have not yet asked for our assistance, but we stand ready to assist if and when they do.”
Despite the LAPD's categorization of the Hasting fatal accident as a "no (evidence of) foul play" accident, LAPD refuses to release the accident and toxicology reports, or make the Mercedes available for inspection which only fuels speculation.
Relevant to the single car accident conclusion by LAPD, it must be noted that Michael Hastings had history that included alcohol and drug abuse, but reports from his family and friends say he kicked the habit.
Stay tuned for further news as this reporter's investigation continues.