Friday, August 9, 2013

BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief ignored May 2012 email about possible Hastings probe

The strangest thing - in my opinion - regarding the tragic death of journalist Michael Hastings is how his employer BuzzFeed covered it. Why didn't they report he allegedly told a WikiLeaks lawyer the feds were probing him or on the last email he sent to Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith and other colleagues at BuzzFeed warning them the same?

A day after his death, WikiLeaks tweeted on June 19, "Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him." However, they haven't provided any additional details on the alleged conversation since then.

In a mostly negative article titled, "Is WikiLeaks trying to start a FBI Michael Hastings Death Conspiracy?", Alexander Abad-Santos reported for The Atlantic Wire that Robinson was "something of a human-rights watchdog and a protector of investigative journalists." Abad-Santos bashed WikiLeaks for making an "ill-timed tweet for attention," and BuzzFeed may have agreed, since they didn't do a story on it.

Christian Stork reported for WhoWhatWhy:

"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.'"

Retired SSG Joe Biggs - who met Hastings when he was embedded in Afghanistan and was BCC'd on the email which he leaked to KTLA - told me on Twitter that BuzzFeed's Ben Smith ignored an email he sent him about Hastings' concerns. Smith blocked me on Twitter after I asked him questions on June 25:

1) When did @BuzzFeedBen learn Michael Hastings was "concerned that he was under investigation" and what did he do?

2) Did @BuzzFeedBen contact his "Washington sources" when he learned #Hastings feared he was under investigation?

3) Why did #Hastings have to contact a @WikiLeaks lawyer? Didn't @BuzzFeedBen have lawyers that could have offered him advice or help?

4) Why did @BuzzFeedBen tell @joecoscarelli "Michael told a number of his friends and colleagues" but not specify if he was told himself?

5) Is @BuzzFeedBen "too scared" to probe Michael #Hastings' fears he was being investigated by Fed? Or does he think he was just paranoid?

6) Any journalist not asking @BuzzFeedBen hard questions about what he did or didn't do may as well take a piss on Michael #Hastings' grave.

7) Why didn't @BuzzFeedBen IMMEDIATELY contact the FBI to ask if Michael #Hastings was being investigated? Why didn't @BuzzFeed break story?

8) Why did @BuzzFeedBen ignore #Hastings pal SSG @RamboBiggs when @BuzzFeed was asked what they were gonna do?

9) Why didn't @BuzzFeedBen even RT @WikiLeaks tweet about #Hastings? Do any @BuzzFeed journos wonder what he'll do if they are ever probed?

10) Why isn't @BuzzFeedBen reporting that since Barrett Brown was arrested & ProjectPM is under probe, the FBI may be lying about #Hastings?

11) FBI, DoJ have Barrett Brown's emails & must know about email ProjectPM sent me claiming #Hastings had "leadership position" @BuzzFeedBen

12) Hastings reported FBI warrant for March 2012 Barrett Brown raid sought records related to

13) @BuzzFeedBen is Editor-in-Chief for website allegedly worth millions that focuses on Tweets but ignores chatter about #Hastings' death.

14) If @mmhastings wasn't working on a Jill Kelley story, why didn't @BuzzFeedBen bother to "correct the record"?

"Following publication of the email by KTLA, the FBI quickly denied that the Bureau was ever investigating Hastings," Stork adds. "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."

At San Diego 6 News, Kimberly Dvorak noted, "the FBI Los Angeles-based spokesperson, Laura Eimiller, atypically emailed media emphatically denying the agency was looking into Mr. Hastings background."

Stork reported, "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."

Last year, BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith ignored tweets and emails I sent him related to a possible government probe of Hastings.

Full text of email I sent Smith on May 18, 2012:


You ignored my tweets...but can you give me a quote for an article I'm working on about how you allowed Michael Hastings to report on Barrett Brown, without disclosing the search warrant is asking for information that may include Hastings, since he was or currently is in Brown's Project PM.

8. Records relating to;

That is the wiki website for Project PM,

Also, his article didn't mention that Brown wrote the forward to his latest book...and that he defended him on the web when he wrote the Runaway General article...and that they used to write at True/Slant together and have a long relationship.

Also, what do you think of the way Hastings favorites my tweets to mock me, but ducks my questions.

And just to cover my bases, are you in Project PM or were you ever, too?

They have a long history of shilling for each other..and I'd like to know if Buzzfeed has any guidelines or journalism ethics rules.


Ron Brynaert

Former Executive Editor for

More links:

As of this writing, I have assembled a fine cadre of bloggers with a collective monthly audience of several hundred thousand people, and each of these bloggers will soon be selecting others to connect to them within the network; they will in turn choose others, and so on. We have Allison Kilkenny, an up-and-coming commentator who deals in policy as a cable anchor deals in cheery banter, and who in addition to her blogging hosts the satisfyingly wonkish program Citizen Radio along with her co-host and husband, comedian Jamie Kilstein. We have Michael Hastings, who served as Newsweek’s Baghdad correspondent and afterwards covered the 2008 election, at which point he grew disgusted with the frivolous nature of political coverage in this nation and left a prestigious position in favor of more virtuous pastures. We have Charles Johnson, the pioneering founder of the blog Little Green Footballs who was among the most widely-read of political bloggers until he found himself at odds with the bulk of his allies and audience due to his support for science and his opposition to racism. I am also in talks with other, similarly prominent commentators and journalists who have likewise demonstrated themselves to be experts in their respective subjects as well as intellectually honest.

"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," Stork reported.

Stork adds, "Since Hastings was familiar with the government contractors listed in the search warrant, he was also potentially culpable in whatever 'crimes' the feds believed Brown and PPM were guilty of. Is this why he was being investigated in the days before his fatal crash on June 18, 2013?"

"The busy Hastings never fully immersed himself in the work of PPM. “[Hastings] was an outlet for us to pass things to,” says Alan Ross, better known on PPM’s Internet relay chat (IRC) as Morpeth. “His relationship was one of talking to Barrett in my experience, rather than direct involvement in PPM.” He was “more of an associate than a member'."

Just before strangely disappearing for a year from Twitter, Morpeth told me in a June 3, 2012 email that Hastings had "a leadership position within our project."

Morpeth also claimed that Michael Roston - who edited Brown and Hastings at True/Slant and used to work under me at RAW STORY but now is at The New York Times - "is a senior member of PPM and has written much of our wiki."

"Yes, there are some NYT (and others) writers and editors that regularly contribute to our material and help us by editorialising in our favour in the NYT when we ask them," Morpeth claimed. "The government officials that we work with generally do not contribute writings, but rather give us leaks of confidential information relating to government, military, and contractor programmes that form the basis of our research and our core data, whilst some government/federal agency contacts enable us to feed back into their processes and make recommendations that enable us to have a more direct influence over policy (functioning as a kind of direct backchannel into these agencies and a private forum for us to express our concerns directly to those with decision-making remit within the fields of intelligence, information security, and consent manufacture. These people are in the employ of various agencies that I cannot specify here over email, for reasons that I'm sure you can understand."

However, Morpeth strangely signed his email calling himself John Morpeth Jameson, Orchestrating Director Project Pm Europe, instead of Alan Ross.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, during a roundtable discussion on Current's "The Young Turks" (video clip), Hastings speculated that his conversations with Barrett Brown - before his arrest - were being recorded, that he was "careful" to only talk about things "in context", and he noted that his number was on Brown's "phone which has been seized by the government." At the time, Hastings said he could not confirm that he was being monitored, "except that people tell [him] all the time in the Special Forces community."

In another article for WhoWhatWhy published in May, Stork reported, "On April 2, the DOJ served the domain hosting service CloudFlare with a subpoena for all records and personal information on one of its clients, a research wiki known as ProjectPM."

The warrant for records was signed by FBI agent Robert Smith, who Barrett Brown is accused of threatening. Many have questioned why Smith's involvement isn't considered a conflict of interest, but since threats to agents could derail investigations the FBI probably doesn't reassign agents unless they have personal conflicts of interest.

Stork noted that "CloudFlare will likely be forced to turn over records on third parties who were engaged in constitutionally-protected conduct related to curating or visiting the website."

In January, after ignoring my tweets for months after Brown's arrest in September, Hastings told me on Twitter that he was finally working on a story and his excuses for taking so long was that "there was an election, and still a few wars going on. but get ready for your mind to be blown." The FreeBarrett website owner said that Hastings was due to meet with Brown in prison in June or July, but the latest filing by Brown's lawyers seems to indicate that they wouldn't have approved of it.

"For instance, the government states that “Brown’s friend confirmed in a statement to the press (posted on August 7, 2013) that lawyers had discussions with a specific media person to arrange an in-person interview with Brown in jail.” GB at 11 (¶27). Presumably, the “specific media person” referenced by the government is Michael Hastings, a journalist, friend and colleague of Mr. Brown who passed away on June 18, 2013 in Los Angeles California. Counsel does not dispute that Mr. Hastings, as with many other members of the media, contacted counsel seeking an in-person interview with Mr. Brown. To counsel’s knowledge, Mr. Hastings did not visit or conduct an in-person interview Mr. Brown before his death.

Counsel has received numerous requests from members of the media, including documentary filmmakers, to interview Mr. Brown. Counsel has advised members of the media seeking an in person interview with Mr. Brown that there is a Protective Order in place, that members of the media would need authorization from all the relevant parties including the authorities at Mansfield Correctional, and that Mr. Brown would be advised not to answer any questions unless submitted in advance, and in writing, so that counsel could screen questions to comply with the Court’s Protective Order, Gentile, Brown, et al .

Dvorak vows that "San Diego 6 News will continue to seek the truth with the assistance of Judicial Watch, a Washington DC based foundation."

"One puzzling aspect of the LAPD's objection to the release of the police report is the inference in the FOIA/CPRA response to San Diego 6 News that a federal investigation may be in progress, which only adds further questions as to what agency is investigating since the FBI said it is not investigating. This turn of events reaffirms this reporter's contention and the tens of thousands of individuals who have responded to this story that it IS in the public interest … Hastings was a national figure.

To find-out who is investigating and why, this week Judicial Watch will serve additional FOIAs against the DOJ (AKA Eric Holders’ war on journalists), Department of Homeland Security’s HSI, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Secretary of the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Secretary of the Department of the Army (due to unchallenged threats made directly to Mr. Hastings).

But I fail to understand why BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone don't seem to care about any of this. Hastings' employers seem to have little interest in the strange circumstances of his death, and seem content to leave the reporting to smaller media outlets and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Oddly, Hastings' widow, Elise Jordan - who used to be a speechwriter for Condoleezza Rice and a spokesperson for the National Security Council - has done nothing but praise BuzzFeed, even though I don't even think they sent a reporter to the scene of the accident, and Smith ducked questions I asked him on Twitter regarding his response to Hastings' last email. Jordan recently appeared on CNN and said that she thought her husband's death was just a "tragic accident." Instead of being asked if she knew why Hastings was speeding between 80 and 100 MPH, if he had talked to her about the alleged probe or if it's true that she had hired private investigators as Hastings' military pal @RamboBiggs and Dvorak reported, Jordan was asked insipid questions about New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez.

Biggs blocked me on Twitter after I sent him Direct Messages advising him that talking to Alex Jones would make it easier for the media to stop reporting on Hastings' death, and that I suspected it was most likely that Hastings was spooked by a bogus source, not assassinated. He also scrubbed many of his tweets about Hastings, and accused Dvorak of misquoting him on a story which claimed that Hastings was cremated against his family's wishes. After Jordon spoke to CNN, Biggs told Jones that he had cancelled a planned trip to Los Angeles because she allegedly claimed it might ruin the investigation. Jones complained that Jordan was "smiling like she went to the first Beatles concert," while talking about her late husband on CNN.

Dvorak ignored Biggs' complaint that he had only told her he "wasn't sure if that's what Michael wanted or the family", and hasn't replied to anyone on Twitter. Journalist Peter Ludlow tweeted to Biggs that "if she deliberately misrepresented you that pretty much makes the rest of her reporting on this worthless." Dvorak claimed on San Diego News 6 that she had received a threat over her reporting, and later told Russia Today that there was more than one, but she ignored my tweets asking for more details and if she had reported it to the police.

Dvorak also reported there was a gag order enforced on LAPD and firefighters regarding Hastings but she hasn't substantiated the claim. "How did @makmak47 get quotes from lead detective in #Hastings case this week if there's a gag order?" I asked her on August 10. Michael Krikorian also got quotes from the coroner's office, who told him that the toxicology report will finally be released within two weeks.

An obviously distraught Biggs is complaining on Twitter that he is being accused of being "after 'fame'", but that he is "sad and miserable" and almost "failed out of school when [M]ike died and because [he] released the email."

"So many people hate me because I spoke up," Biggs tweeted on August 11. "Sorry, I felt obligated to say something. What would you do if you got that email[?] I had to speak."

A recent article co-written by Jill Simpson - a "whistleblower" who once made unsubstantiated allegations to a RAW STORY reporter that former President George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove had tried to kill her and had burned down her house, and spread a rumor he was gay in 2012 - misreported that I was friends with Hastings. In 2011, Hastings followed me after retweeting me, but he smeared me as crazy last year after I complained about his article on the Barrett Brown search warrant. I wouldn't presume to think or speak for Hastings, but I seriously doubt he would have been happy that controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has taken the lead in probing his death, instead of his colleagues at BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone.

"#Hastings didn't get to 'blow [my] mind' with @BarrettBrownLOL story but @BuzzFeed or @RollingStone can if they do real story on MH's death," I tweeted on August 10.

Hastings deserves better than this.

(Afterword: A BuzzFeed contributor favorited a tweet I made linking to this story, so not everyone at Hastings' former job must be happy with how his death has been covered there.)

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