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Speri writes: "With the exception of some initial chatter, Hastings' piece, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of Bergdahl's unit and its leadership, hardly had the impact of some of his other investigations."

Journalist Michael Hastings died last year in a car accident. (photo: Blue Rider Press/Penguin)
Journalist Michael Hastings died last year in a car accident. (photo: Blue Rider Press/Penguin)

Why Was the FBI Investigating Michael Hastings' Reporting on Bergdahl?

By Alice Speri, VICE Magazine

05 June 14


hree years into the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, Michael Hastings — the journalist whose reporting cost General Stanley McChrystal his job — wrote a Rolling Stone story on the missing soldier, a piece which the magazine called “the definitive first account of Bowe Bergdahl.”

Hastings, who died in a car accident in Los Angeles in June 2013, had unparalleled access for that story.

He spoke to Bergdahl’s parents, who had by that time stopped talking to the press, following “subtle pressure” from the army, and he quoted from emails the young soldier had sent to them, documenting his growing disillusion with the war and the US military.

Hastings also spoke to several unnamed men in Bergdahl’s unit — soldiers who, we now know, had to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement forbidding them from discussing the soldier’s disappearance and search with anyone — let alone one of the top investigative journalists in the country.

But most controversially, Hastings’ piece revealed what has been the subject of much debate and vitriol over the last few days: That a disillusioned Bergdahl had actually abandoned his post and “walked away.”

At the time of the story’s publication, the media had all but forgotten about Bergdahl — who was released on Saturday after five years in the hands of the Taliban, in exchange for five Guantanamo prisoners. And, with the exception of some initial chatter, Hastings’ piece, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of Bergdahl’s unit and its leadership, hardly had the impact of some of his other investigations.

But someone did pay attention to it: the FBI.

That, at least, is what was revealed in a heavily redacted document released by the agency following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request — filed on the day of Hastings’ death — by investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, an MIT doctoral student whom the Justice Department once called the “most prolific” requester of FOIA documents.

The document, partially un-redacted after Leopold and Shapiro engaged in a lengthy legal battle with the FBI for failing to fulfill its FOIA obligations, singles out Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece — “America’s Last Prisoner of War” — as “controversial reporting.” It names Hastings and Matthew Farwell, a former soldier in Afghanistan and a contributing reporter to Hastings’ piece.

The document also included an Associated Press report based on the Rolling Stone piece, and what it identifies as a “blog entry” penned by Gary Farwell, Matthew’s father — which actually appears to be a comment entry on the Idaho Statesman’s website.

“The article reveals private email excerpts, from [redacted] to his parents. The excerpts include quotes about being ‘ashamed to even be American,’ and threats that, ‘If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan,’” the FBI file reads. “The Rolling Stone article ignited a media frenzy, speculating about the circumstances of [redacted] capture, and whether US resources and effort should continue to be expended for his recovery.”

The FBI file — as well as a Department of Justice document released in response to Leopold and Shapiro’s lawsuit — suggests that Hastings and Farwell’s reporting got swept up into an “international terrorist investigation” into Bergdahl’s disappearance.

A spokesperson for the FBI told VICE News that the agency does not normally comment on pending investigations and that it lets FOIA documents “speak for themselves.” The investigation was still pending as of last month, Leopold said.

According to the files — and a rare public statement by the FBI following Hastings’ death — Hastings was never directly under investigation by the agency, despite having pissed off a lot of people in very high places.

But it is not exactly clear why Hastings and Farwell’s “controversial” reporting made it into a criminal investigation that was already active before they even wrote the Rolling Stone story.

“Michael and Matt both worked really, really hard on that story, and I know for a fact that they did it in a way that completely angered the US military and the US government, and while other reporters were steering away from it, they were totally on it,” Leopold told VICE News. “The FBI was investigating this, whether they were investigating Michael or investigating the story, and there was a lot of fear around it, because they characterized the story as ‘controversial’ — whatever that means.”

“Then the question became, why was the FBI looking at this, what were they looking at?” Leopold added. “The FBI says Hastings was not a target of their investigation but his reporting was. How do you investigate someone's reporting without investigating them?"

Farwell declined to discuss the details of the file, but told VICE News, “I’m happy the FBI is reading Rolling Stone on the job.”

He had not known that his name, and his father's, showed up in the FBI's files until Leopold pointed it out to him. Leopold told VICE News: "When I showed Matt these files he was like, oh my god, this is basically outlining my conversations."

Farwell said: “When it first came out it was just Michael, and Jason was like, ‘Hey dude, this has your dad in it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh shit, they're talking about me in these redactions, that's weird.’ Anyway, I signed a privacy waiver and sent it out to Jason."

Entire paragraphs in the FBI documents remain redacted — leaving many questions about the scope of the investigation into the journalists’ work. But the un-redacted sections about Farwell characterize him as a 10th Mountain infantryman, who helped broker a meeting between Hastings and — presumably — some of the sources for the Rolling Stone story.

In his comment on the Idaho Statesman's site, also picked up in the FBI file, Farwell Senior comes to Bergdahl's defense after the Rolling Stone article sparked backlash against the soldier, of a similar sort that we are seeing today. He also credits his son for brokering Hastings’ meeting with the Bergdahls.

“I’m going to excuse that young kid for his choice of words, but I’m not going to excuse the leadership of his outfit, nor the misguided policies of our government in Afghanistan and elsewhere which have put our young people in harms way without a clear vision of what they are doing,” Farwell, himself a retired Air Force officer, wrote then. “It’s my hope this Rolling Stone article helps the Bergdahl’s get their son back and helps expose some misguided policies and conduct far above the pay grade of this young disillusioned soldier.”

Now that Bergdahl is free, the lid on Pandora’s box has been lifted.

“For five years, soldiers have been forced to stay silent about the disappearance and search for Bergdahl. Now we can talk about what really happened,” Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served in Bergdahl’s battalion, wrote in the Daily Beast on Monday. “I served in the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009. After we redeployed, every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth.”

"Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down," Bethea stated.

Soldiers forced to silence for years have now taken their accounts — and anger — about the missing soldier’s ordeal to social media and the press. Republican strategists eager to turn Bergdahl into the next Benghazi have also jumped on the opportunity to offer critics of the young “deserter” up for interviews, as the New York Times noted today.

In the last few days, Bergdahl has been blamed with the deaths of “every American soldier killed in Paktika Province in the four-month period that followed his disappearance,” according to the Times — charges that the Pentagon dismissed as unsubstantiated. Today it was reported that the army will launch an inquiry into the circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance and his personal conduct.

"The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity," General Martin E. Dempsey said in a Facebook post today. "As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred."

A US Army investigation into Bergdahl's own conduct might appease or inflame his critics. But even before Bergdahl’s release, “the dam was getting ready to burst,” Farwell said.

“That was one of the weirdest things about the case, that everyone in the whole brigade was required to sign a pretty strict nondisclosure agreement that was enforced at a pretty high level, so basically if any of the people from that unit talked about Bowe, they thought they could be losing their careers,” Farwell said. "It was a blanket statement, ‘you will not talk about anything about this.'”

And while there is no suggestion — in the un-redacted bits of the FBI file on Hastings — that the agency was after any soldier who had taken his frustrations to the press, the fact that the FBI was looking into the reporters’ sources and methods raises at least the question.

Now, everyone wants to talk about it. But Hastings’ ever “controversial” reporting got to it first. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+30 # jmac9 2014-06-05 14:22
military and repubs and dems all say

military bravo - praise and 'don't leave an American behind'
suddenly Repubs-T baggers would leave an American behind...
so as to not discuss:
why are all 'terrorist' groups Islamic? What policy did the USA pursue that got Islamic groups so upset?
Answer: the USA support of the ongoing Israeli terrorism against the Islamic Palestinian people.
presidentmac.or g has the agenda to end the fraud of the 'war on terror'
nobody else even tries to discuss why 9-11 happened, and how to end the fraud.
-1 # RobertLVogel 2014-06-08 14:37
presidentmac.or g presents an agenda I can agree with...except for the tax policy.
A stiff graduated tax could solve many problems including excessive income inequality, obscene CEO compensation, bonuses from bank bailouts, hedge fund speculation, and more.
+100 # jmac9 2014-06-05 14:49
Hmmm...the guy who trashed General McChrystal, pointed out whacko US policy and troubles in Afghanistan, 'died' in a car wreck and mentioned before his death:
in an email sent to his colleagues, warning that federal authorities were interviewing his friends and that he needed to go "off the radar" for a bit.

'The email was sent around 1 p.m. on Monday, June 17. At 4:20 a.m. the following morning, Hastings died when his Mercedes, traveling at high speeds, smashed into a tree and caught on fire.'

Gary Webb pointed out Reagan's cocaine trafficking in the 'Iran-Contra' scam
and died of a 'suicide' somehow shooting himself in the head twice.

The CIA retired a guy who did the actual illegal torturing during 'waterboard' era...he 'died' of a heart attack two weeks after his forced retirement.

CIA director Bill Casey, died less than 24 hours after the first witness in Congressional hearings on the 'Iran-Contra' affair named him as having assisted in providing arms to Nicaraguan rebels after Congress forbade such support.
+38 # RMDC 2014-06-05 20:03
It is called taking care of business.
+10 # unitedwestand 2014-06-07 00:37
Sounds like we have gangsters in the midst of Washington, D.C.
Not the first time we've noticed that though, some of them we the people elected them.
-20 # Pancho 2014-06-06 07:21
It's called conspiracy theories.

Casey died after suffering for months with a brain tumor that removed his ability to speak. Surgery shortly before his death was unsuccessful.
Car experts commented that there is no reason to suspect foul play in the crash. Motor Trend technical director Frank Markus said the ensuing fire was consistent with a high-speed car crash. Hastings' widow Elise Jordan has said she believes his death to be "just a really tragic accident". His older brother, Jonathan, said he believed Michael was experiencing a "manic episode" shortly before his death, and that he may have had suspicions were it not for this observation. Cenk Uygur, friend of Hastings' said that many of Michael's friends were concerned that he was "in a very agitated state", saying he was "incredibly tense" and worried that his material was being surveilled by the government. Friends believed (his) work led to a "paranoid state"
+33 # CarlGibson 2014-06-06 12:44
"Conspiracy theory" is often a really convenient and simplistic excuse for dismissing information that flies in the face of a story full of holes.

I talked to car experts who told me that the Mercedes Hastings was driving is actually built so the engine will fall down instead of explode outward in the event of a collision, and that the explosion was not at all consistent with what C250 coupes do when they crash.

The former counterterroris m czar under both Bush and Clinton said Hastings' crash was consistent with a "car cyber attack."

A UC San Diego computer science professor told me all about how he remotely hacked into cars of all makes and models from 1,000 miles away with a laptop and was able to take over gas, brakes, steering, and even listen to conversations inside the car.

One of Hastings' "paranoid statements" made the night he died was that he was fearful his car's computer could be hacked.

Elise Jordan was a member of Bush's National Security Council. And his brother joining in the "no foul play" narrative is expected. If you go through the trouble of silencing a journalist by hacking into his car and making him crash, you'd certainly blackmail the family into supporting your narrative.
-19 # Pancho 2014-06-06 07:23
Webb's ex-wife, Sue Bell, discounted such theories Tuesday, saying the 49-year-old Webb had been distraught for some time over his inability to get a job at another major newspaper.

"The way he was acting it would be hard for me to believe it was anything but suicide," Bell said.

She said that before he died Webb wrote and mailed notes to family members and placed his baby shoes in his mother's shed.

Webb had paid for his own cremation earlier in the year and had named Bell months ago as the beneficiary of his bank account, she said. He had sold his house last week, because he could no longer afford the mortgage, and was upset that his motorcycle had been stolen last week.

He had apparently laid out his driver's license before taking his father's .38-caliber pistol, which he kept in his nightstand, to shoot himself.

Coroner Robert Lyons said "It's unusual in a suicide case to have two shots," he said, "but it has been done in the past, and it is in fact a distinct possibility."
+63 # Radscal 2014-06-05 15:12
In 2009 and 2010, the Universities of Washington and California, San Diego ran a series of experiments on hacking into automobiles' onboard computer systems.

They even successfully hacked in through autos' built in cell phone and internet connections without ever being in proximity to the autos. Remotely, the were able to operate the engines (start, stop, accelerate, decelerate), brakes (engage or disengage), door locks and windows, and on autos equipped with automatic lane change or "hands free parking," even the steering, as well as all other electronic systems.

After publishing their reports, the Department of Homeland Security announced it has been working with them and automobile manufacturers to find ways to defeat such easy hacking.

One scenario DHS foresees is a terrorist attack whereby all of the computer-equipp ed autos in a specific area would have a virus installed that would cause them all, at the same instant to either accelerate to high speeds while others to suddenly brake, and those so equipped to make sudden, sharp turns. This would result in mass casualties as well as restrict first responders' because accesst would be blocked by the wreckage.

The Mercedes Benz C250 that Michael Hastings was in at the time of his death came with all of the above electronic "features" except auto-parking.
+21 # barbaratodish 2014-06-05 19:45
Taking bets that the redacted material involved gets "dissapeared" or re-written, re-created and "leaked" as if it is fact!
+74 # RMDC 2014-06-05 20:06
If Berghdal came to his senses about the war in Afganistan and deserted or walked away, then he is a hero. What if all soldiers threw down their weapons and walked away? Then wars would end. Wars continue because there are young people who can be brainwashed into fighting them and taking orders from officers like McCrystal. The old fuckers like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and all the generals at the Pentagon are not going to fight and risk being killed. They need millions of Bergdhals that they can send out to kill and die. When one of them wakes up and walks away, the old psychopaths who start the wars get really pissed off.

We need to start saying that Bergdhal is a hero if it turns out he walked away from the war. don't let the mass media with their pentagon ass licking drown us out.
+14 # backwards_cinderella 2014-06-06 03:48
damn straight.
+23 # Radscal 2014-06-06 09:26
Back in the Vietnam War era, a frequently seen query asked:

"What if they gave a war, and no one came?"

I proudly burned my draft card at an anti-war rally.
+5 # kitb 2014-06-05 22:36
Someone forgot to edit this piece. Really bad juju, RSN.
+13 # Pancho 2014-06-06 12:12
I doubt that RSN does any editing. It is a "news aggregator" that republishes material from other sources, save for the occasional original article such as those excellent pieces by William Boardman.

When RSN republishes them, it simply copies the material from the original source. You may have assumed that the titles of each section, which text is repeated below, was repeated in error, which it was not.

I'm guessing that RSN would not be able to edit a piece at all, even for a misspelling, and run it under its original credit.

I don't think the piece is poorly edited. Was there something else specific that you found needed work?

I hope, that if you're complaining, that you've sent RSN a few bucks. I have. If you haven't, and have complained all the same, shame on you.
+31 # Caliban 2014-06-05 23:51
Everybody interested in the Bergdahl controversy and it's unfolding politics should carefully read Michael Hastings' fine piece on the Rolling Stone website. There are many interesting themes brought out.

For instance, despite Congressional GOP leaders pretense of the Bergdahl matter, Hastings makes it clear that there had been many discussions between the White House and concerned members of both parties in the House and Senate--includi ng discussions about a prisoner exchange which most agreed was a reasonable means of retrieving Bergdahl.

Likewise, Hastings makes it clear that anybody who investigates Bergdahl should also study the repeated instances of slack and undisciplined behavior in his platoon. Investigators should also be highly skeptical of any negative criticism of Bergdahl by members of the platoon for Bergdahl often criticized them. Frankly, some of this comments I have heard on the TV news have sounded very much like payback.

Finally, I left reading the article much as I have hearing more recent descriptions of Bergdahl's mental state--concerne d that he was earlier and still is suffering from a deep depression and that he may find his mental condition used to accuse him of fully premeditated illegal behavior--both to harm him and to discredit President Obama, Secretary Hagel and the deeply humane action that brought this idealistic but troubled fellow American home.
+3 # Pancho 2014-06-06 12:25
When the first story of the exchange came out, I read it an copied the name of one of those five Taliban. It implicated him as being disloyal to the Taliban, so I assumed, if true, it would get him killed.

Then I googled his name. I came up with numerous stories in major media from 2012 and 2013 that mentioned the proposed prisoner swap, including the names of the five proposed to be exchanged. I wrote to one of the authors, Kate Clark, asking what she thought. I'm including my note to her which I sent to four other independent reporters who have ably covered the Taliban and Pakistani involvement and the drug trade. I'm including my note to her in a reply to this note, due to RSN space limitations:
+4 # Pancho 2014-06-06 12:28
Dear Ms. Clark,

I read your story from a year ago about this proposed release. The names of the five had been bandied about a year before your story as well, in reference to the proposed swap.

Here's the weird part.

In the original story, Nabi Omari was identified as one of those five to be released.

The story said that he was arrested when he was meeting with his CIA contact, named "Mark," in Kabul, I think. It said that he was a double agent, essentially, after having been a Taliban official.

Then, moments later, the story had vaporized, being replaced with the one below. I checked the Internet and found that disappearance to be ubiquitous.

I used the link at various sites (including other McClatchy papers) only to find that they too indicated, "We're sorry. That page is no longer available."

I checked and found that there were two people with that name who were held at Guantanamo. One's first name was "Abdul," the other "Mohammed (sp?)" ?

In searching for info, that's how I found your story.

I had left feedback, asking if the US had not in fact signed this guy's death warrant, but then the replacement story was substituted a few moments later with the feedback (mine was the only one at the ADN) removed as well.
+1 # Radscal 2014-06-06 13:39

Have you searched for the "disappeared" article on the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive?
+4 # Pancho 2014-06-06 21:50
Thanks for the reminder about Wayback.

I went there, though, and got nothing.

Then I Googled the guy's name again, and this popped up, six days ago on CNN's site. It has some of the "disappeared" info, including the alleged CIA contact agent, "Mark":

Omari was a minor Taliban official in Khost Province. According to the first administrative review in 2004, he was a member of the Taliban and associated with both al Qaeda and another militant group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. He was the Taliban's chief of communications and helped al Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Omari acknowledged during hearings that he had worked for the Taliban but denied connections with militant groups. He also said that he had worked with a U.S. operative named Mark to try to track down Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
+37 # Nominae 2014-06-06 00:00
In the interest of pure accuracy I recommend the emending this sentence from the article as follows:

Change: "Hastings, who died in a car accident in Los Angeles in June 2013,...."


"[Michael] Hastings, who died in a car [redacted] in Los Angeles in June 2013..."

Now, doesn't that just feel a wee bit more honest ?
+8 # cordleycoit 2014-06-06 11:29
Now we see how one of the world's most expensive cars can catch fire,burning the driver to a crisp. Just ask "Who is Bergdahl?
+14 # Radscal 2014-06-06 13:34
"Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty."

In light of things like drone killings of 3 U.S. citizens and "indefinite detention," shouldn't that sentence read:
"Like MANY Americans, he is innocent until prove guilty."
+5 # Annietime13 2014-06-06 16:27
Michael Hastings....... ............
+15 # JSRaleigh 2014-06-07 10:21
I don't believe that Hastings death was an "accident".

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