DID the CIA assassinate journalist Michael Hastings?
WikiLeaks ‘Vault 7’ dump reignites conspiracy theories surrounding death of Michael Hastings
WikiLeaks’ release on Tuesday of a massive trove of secret CIA documents has reignited conspiracy theories which have swirled since 2013, with revelations the spy agency was attempting to remotely hack vehicles.
“As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks,” WikiLeaks writes. “The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”
Hastings, an acclaimed war correspondent and vocal critic of government mass surveillance, died in the early hours of Tuesday, June 18, 2013, when his Mercedes C250 Coupe apparently lost control and burst into flames before slamming into a palm tree.
Witnesses to the accident, which occurred around 4:25am in the leafy Hancock Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles, said the car appeared to be travelling at top speed and was creating “sparks and flames” before it went off the road.
Los Angeles police said there was no sign of foul play in the crash.
Just over 12 hours earlier, the 33-year-old BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone contributor had sent an email to colleagues and friends, warning he was onto a “big story” and was under investigation. “The Feds are interviewing my ‘close friends and associates’,” he wrote in an email sent at around 1pm on Monday, June 17. “May be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices. I’m onto a big story and need to go off the radar for a bit. All the best, and hope to see you soon. Michael.”
Hastings’ final published article, ‘Why Democrats Love To Spy On Americans’, was highly critical of President Barack Obama and the US government’s domestic spying program, which had just been revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Hastings accused the Obama administration and its allies in the FBI and Department of Justice of waging a war on “transparency supporters, whistleblowers and investigative reporters”.
Hastings’ car at the scene of the accident.Source:Supplied
“I have no doubt that he was pursuing a hot story,” she told CNN six weeks after the accident. “He always had at least five hot stories going. That was Michael. Right now the LAPD still has an active investigation ... my gut here is that it was just a really tragic accident and I’m unlucky in the world, the world was very unlucky.”
At the time, however, former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke told The Huffington Post the crash was “consistent with a car cyber attack”.
“There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers [know how to remotely seize control of a car],” he said.
“What has been revealed as a result of some research at universities is that it’s relatively easy to hack your way into the control system of a car, and to do such things as cause acceleration when the driver doesn’t want acceleration, to throw on the brakes when the driver doesn’t want the brakes on, to launch an airbag.
“You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it’s not that hard. So if there were a cyber attack on the car — and I’m not saying there was — I think whoever did it would probably get away with it.”
WikiLeaks itself appeared to suggest Hastings’ death was the result of foul play. Hours after crash, WikiLeaks tweeted: “Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.”
Following that claim, the FBI took the unusual step of denying any investigation. “At no time was journalist Michael Hastings under investigation by the FBI,” agency spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said at the time.
Ms Eimiller told Reuters the FBI had been receiving a barrage of calls pertaining to WikiLeaks’ tweet and “it was getting a little out of control”.
WikiLeaks’ so-called “Vault 7” release of nearly 9000 documents contains explosive allegations about the CIA’s cyber-warfare capabilities, including detail on how the agency created malware to target iPhones, Android and smart TVs, giving them the power to spy and listen in on users.
WikiLeaks said the data shows that the CIA is now rivaling the NSA, the US government’s main electronic spying body, in cyber warfare, but with less oversight.