Friday, June 28, 2013

Karl Rove Doesn't Get It

Karl Rove, the longtime GOP strategist who presided over a stunning Republican defeat in the 2012 elections, is up to his usual tricks.  He's consulting for Liberty Works, run by Dick Boyce, formerly the CEO of J. Crew and a partner in Bain & Co., and he helped Boyce and Liberty Works get the Republican National Committee's contract to build an open-source voter data platform.  Predictably enough, Liberty Works is now discussing ways to outsource the work on the voter data platform to another tech community, Originate. The net result is that Republicans are faced with delays in getting their own voter app ready, a problem that is a repeat of the Romney campaign's Election Day debacle with ORCA, where 30,000 Romney volunteers were left standing around on Election Day with no polling place credentials, and no working voter software app, along with a headquarters in Boston that seemed utterly unable to do anything to resolve the problem.

As RedState's Eric Erickson noted, “[F]or all of Karl Rove’s fine attributes, he is also largely a direct mail guy who learned at the foot of Lee Atwater and never really learned anything after Atwater passed.  I'm just not sure, after the 2012 race, that this is a wise investment. Direct mail guys believe that the data is the value, and what Team Obama discovered is that the tools to analyze the data are the value."

Well, not exactly. The Obama team built a human infrastructure, where every activist was in turn in charge of contacting and motivating 50 likely Obama voters.  The effort was centered on barber shops and beauty shops, as well as condominiums, where Obama volunteers could then contact likely voters and facilitate their presence at the polls on Election Day. Everything about the Obama campaign's efforts was directed towards the human infrastructure, and the technology infrastructure the Obama team assembled was designed to complement a person to person contact effort rather than replace it. In overall contacts with voters, the Obama and Romney campaigns were roughly equal.  In person to person contacts, the Obama campaign beat the Romney campaign 3 to 2.  What this means is that the Romney campaign was counting robocalls as contacts, even though automated calling is nowhere near as effective a tool as a get out of vote operation on the ground.

The structure of the GOP efforts was markedly different as well. In the end, Barack Obama's campaign had twice the staff and twice the funds as Mitt Romney's, while outside groups opposing Obama and supporting Mitt Romney had a more money than their progressive counterparts.  This is important, because FCC rules enable candidates to get better rates on advertising buys than outside groups, so even though Republicans were spending more on advertisements, the Obama campaign was advertising more.  It had the money on hand as part of the actual campaign to direct as it saw fit, and it locked in ad buys months in advance to get better rates.  Obama paid an average of $672 per television spot, while the outside groups paid $1,103 per spot.  The Romney campaign, which sat on its thumbs until October in terms of ad buys and ad campaigns, spent $706 per television spot as a result.

The Obama campaign paid for 86% of the ads run on Obama's behalf, while the Romney campaign paid for just 44% of the advertisements run on his behalf, with outside groups picking up another 44% of the remaining advertising run on Romney's behalf.  And, oh, how those outside groups spent money: in June 2011, Crossroads GPS was spending $20 million on anti-Obama ads, including a slew of ads that were marketed through a mobile advertising network, which managed to place Rove's ads on the gay hookup app Grindr.

June 2011 was a year before the Obama campaign rolled out $65 million in advertising buys in June 2012, defining Mitt Romney at a time when he had no money on hand to respond and when outside groups seemed ill-equipped and organized to mount a defense on behalf of Romney.  The $65 million, originally budgeted for September and October, was re-allocated to June by David Axelrod, who beat the Romney campaign's wait till October strategy.  With a 3,000 to 500 on the ground advantage in paid activists, and a 123 to 40 office advantage in Ohio, the Obama campaign simply outmaneuvered the Romney campaign at every turn.

This was only exacerbated in terms of technology, as the website Ars Technica pointed out when it highlighted how the Obama campaign was outspent by the Romney campaign on IT products and services by some $14.5 million. The difference? The Obama campaign's IT operation was largely internal, with hardware and software licenses purchased for an in-house IT team that wrote the apps the Obama campaign used from scratch.  They used Amazon Web Service to lessen the cost of infrastructure management, as well as exploiting Amazon's Route 53 service for domain names in order to make their deployments much simpler by using regionless generic configuration settings.

The end result was that due to cost efficiencies in IT execution and overall campaign infrastructure, as well as control of its funding through the actual campaign rather than outside groups, the Obama campaign outspent the Romney campaign 5 to 1 on advertising.  Lead DevOps for Obama for America Scott VenDenPlas, when interviewed by Ars Technica, said that he "would be shocked if such a chasm exists next cycle between the parties-these aren't mistakes to be repeated if you want to do things like win elections."

Well, if you want to win elections, sure, you don't repeat these mistakes. If you want fat consulting fees, control of vast sums of donated money, and potential control over open-source apps designed to get out the GOP vote and provide aggregated data for current and future operations, you exploit the outside group model in order to keep making money, which is the exact business Karl Rove is in as I write this.

With the 2014 midterm elections looming, it's doubtful indeed that the Republicans are going to be ready to have a substantive get out the vote effort when RNC is going through Karl Rove and Liberty Works to build its platform, and when other GOP efforts bifurcated between existing apps like Gravity and the Koch Brothers' Themis app.   The biggest issue confronting the right is the issue of control, and it is this issue of control over the resulting data that is crippling the potential effectiveness of efforts to reclaim Congress during the midterm elections.

The RNC already tried to outsource its voter list to Data Trust, a company which failed to raise cash and was forced to scale back plans in the lead-up to the 2012 election.  What did Data Trust possess in common with Liberty Works? A need to outsource its operations to update the voter lists, because Data Trust did not possess the expertise, experience, or infrastructure to update the list itself.  The 2012 election turned out predictably enough: lots of money was spent, to very little effect.

In the meantime, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is setting fundraising records under Senator Michael Bennett as a result of its ability to leverage the lessons and infrastructure of Barack Obama's email campaigns.  The group out-raised its Republican counterpart $13.6 million to $6.8 million in the first quarter of 2013.  Key to that success is a jump to $5.6 million in donations from digital donors, up from $1.4 million in 2009.  The Republicans are again counting on independent expenditure groups to make up the gap, with the only problem being that those groups failed utterly to make a dent in 2012.

In the meantime, one of those major groups is run by a man in Karl Rove who clearly doesn't get it, and probably isn't going to have an epiphany in time for the 2014 midterm campaigns. Open-source means open-source, and it means fundamentally changing the game of voter lists.  This means sharing, or at least renting out those lists at drastically reduced rates and giving up the idea of control. You can control Congress, or you can control a voter list and hoard the information thereof. Republicans need to fundamentally re-orient their entire get out the vote operation to lessen the ratios between volunteers and voters, and to increase person-to-person contacts in the process.  Furthermore, the technology infrastructure needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to update existing voter lists to ensure accuracy, but that won't happen without infrastructure sharing. Campaigns need the funds that outside groups are getting precisely because candidates can advertise at lower rates, thanks to the FCC, and they're more connected to the localized political realities of their states than any out of state group will ever be.

It remains to be seen if the Republicans will learn the lessons of 2012 in time to recover for 2014.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How To Actually Get Prosecuted and Do Hard Time in the Banking Crisis!

Meet Jeff Olson. He's a 40 year old man who used water-soluble chalk to write anti-big bank and anti-bailout messages on sidewalks outside three San Diego Bank of America branches.  The San Diego District Attorney is charging Olson with 13 counts of vandalism, for which he faces a possible 13 year jail term and $13,000 in fines.  Some of Olson's slogans were catchy little numbers like "No thanks big banks" and "Shame on Bank of America."  

Other slogans disseminated the addresses of websites, like "Stop"  Olson started off as a mere protester outside of Bank of America with a simple handheld sign, and it was during one of those protests that he was confronted by Darrell Freeman, Vice President of Bank of America's Global Corporate Security.  On National Bank Transfer Day, Olson and his partner Stephen Daniels faced off with Freeman, who approached them and accused them of running a business outside the bank, because they were advocating for Bank of America customers to transfer their accounts to credit unions.  

Freeman did what any normal head of corporate security would do: he contacted San Diego's Gang Unit until the matter was referred to the San Diego City Attorney's Office.  The City Attorney, Jan Goldsmith, allegedly received campaign contributions from Bank of America.  The City Attorney's office waited until three months had elapsed from the time Freeman originally complained, after Olson had stopped protesting and started working the campaign of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who had clashed repeatedly with Jan Goldsmith.  

Filner objected to the prosecution as a waste of taxpayer money, and characterized it as retaliation for political speech against an individual with no prior criminal record.  Indeed, Olson and his attorney attempted to introduce a First Amendment defense to the vandalism charges, but Judge Howard Shore granted Deputy District Attorney Paige Hazard's motion to bar any mention of the First Amendment at trial.  

Bank of America, which received $45 billion in taxpayer funds through TARP,  and billions more through backdoor bailouts, has repeatedly violated the terms of a consent order as part of the mortgage settlement forged by the state attorney generals.  As Naked Capitalism outlines it: 

Contrary to the clear language of the settlement agreement, which says that no foreclosure referrals are to take place if a borrower gets his paperwork in within the stipulated time frame until the review process is complete and he’s been given the opportunity to appeal an adverse decision, the bank has decided to ignore the settlement terms and not stop the process until (more accurately unless) the application gets to an underwriter in time. And that’s not the first step in the process. The file (at a minimum) first goes to a reviewer like our source, who has an incentive to reject it, since he gets paid more to reject than approve mods. Only if it miraculously gets past someone like him to an underwriter will the foreclosure process be put on hold.

Then there's Bank of America's illegal retaliatory actions against an employee who blew the whistle on wire, mail, and bank fraud, which resulted in OSHA ordering Bank of America to reinstate the employee and pay $930,000 in back wages, interest, damages, and attorneys fees.  Bank of America was also sued in federal court Florida for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Florida Consumer Collections Practices Act when it contacted debtors directly via automated phone calls even after being told to contact their attorneys.  Bank of America has managed to put other suits to bed, to the tune of $13 billion, by settling out of court.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Bank of America for discriminating against borrowers with disabilities, requiring some borrowers to provide physicians statements, even though the requirements violated the Fair Housing Act.  Bank of America has also been accused of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by attempting to foreclose or collect on debts from active duty military personnel.  How patriotic.

Bank of America is also facing potential litigation over its alleged violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, in New Jersey and New York, for its failure to comply with laws governing notification periods for layoffs or business closings. The Federal Reserve stepped in to intervene on Bank of America's behalf when it was sued for $10 billion over its fraudulent behavior in selling mortgage securities to A.I.G.  The New York Fed disclosed a confidential agreement with Bank of America that discharged the bank from any and all liability for losses arising from the securities, thereby hosing A.I.G. for the $10 billion it sought in federal court, which was only a fraction of the $18 billion it lost overall.

What did Bank of America pay for this generous subsidy from the Federal Reserve? Nothing.

That's right, for its fraud in dealings with A.I.G. that ultimately resulted in an $18 billion loss to the insurer, Bank of America paid zero dollars due to the Federal Reserve's intervention.  Bank of America also managed to transfer a loan portfolio with high default rates to Fannie Mae for some $500 million, even though the mortgages within the portfolio and the securities thereof were expected to deteriorate further, rendering the transaction a net loss to Fannie Mae and a net gain to Bank of America, which managed to discharge potential future liability for its conduct in the securities markets.  That's right, Fannie Mae purchased loans potentially worth less than $500 million, and all liabilities thereof, for $500 million from Bank of America. The bailouts just keep on coming.

For all of this, not a single Bank of America executive or employee will ever do hard time.  But for using children's water soluble sidewalk chalk on city sidewalks outside three Bank of America branches, Jeff Olson is faced with 13 years in prison, as the big banks he protested against managed to receive over $29 billion in total bailouts.  In just Term Auction Facilities via the Federal Reserve, Bank of America received $260 billion, more than any other bank. In Primary Dealer Credit Facility borrowing, Bank of America received $638.9 billion in nearly zero interest loans as part of another backdoor bailout.

All told, Bank of America received over a trillion dollars in backdoor bailouts and loans from the Federal Reserve to keep it afloat.  When ordinary citizens protested against this kind of favoritism, and the corrupt crony capitalism behind it all, they were shouted down.  In Olson's case, he's facing 13 years in jail, while not a single Bank of America employee who participated in the various lawbreaking examples outlined in this post will do a day of hard time.  This doesn't even touch on the Bank of America forced insurance fraud scandal, which was blown open by Anonymous and an employee of Balboa Insurance Co., which was acquired by Bank of America with the Countrywide merger. It doesn't touch on the mortgage fraud suit by the U.S. against Bank of America, which, like so many other suits filed against Bank of America, never end in jail time for anyone who actually committed the fraud.

Here's an idea: everyone reading this should go buy sidewalk chalk, find your local branch of Bank of America, and start scrawling I STAND WITH JEFF OLSON on the sidewalks in front of Bank of America, along with whatever other slogans you can think of, because it's only fitting that taxpayers who had their savings devalued to finance these bailouts should at least stand for free speech. After all, free speech over the criminal, unethical behavior of Bank of America and its fellow banks is something that is sorely needed in this country, even if it consists of using sidewalk chalk on a city sidewalk in front of the branch.  If you're a Bank of America customer, perhaps you might consider transferring your account elsewhere.

Roundup: IRS Stupid

The IRS, already entangled in a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, as well as an investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into its targeting of conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) status, finds itself embroiled in two new scandals.  The first involves a small IT company, Strong Castle, which was founded in 2011 by CEO Braulio Castillo and managed to secure over $500 million in contracts with the IRS in 2012.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a report on Tuesday detailing the relationship between Castillo and IRS Deputy Director Greg Roseman.  The report examines the ways in which Roseman may have influenced the contractor selection process in favor of Castillo and Strong Castle.

Specifically, Roseman advised Castillo how to better position his company to win contracts over a series of text messages and emails. Castillo then went on to secure contracts reserved for disabled veterans and businesses in low-income areas by citing a foot injury he suffered while attending a military prep school as a teenager.  This qualified Castillo's company as a "service-disabled veteran owned business," even though Castillo never actually served in the Armed Services and went on to play college football.

Roseman appeared before the House committee Wednesday morning and refused to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and following in the footsteps of Lois Lerner, the IRS official who divulged the existence of an IRS effort to target conservative 501(c)(4) applicants.

Castillo had no experience with IT contracts himself, but managed to purchase Signet Computers, which he rebranded as Strong Castle. Appearing before the committee, Castillo pushed back against hte assertion that Strong Castle had little to no experience, pointing to the 15 years experience he said Signet Computers had at the time of purchase. House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa responded by pointing out that Signet Computers employees had all abandoned the company before the purchase.

IRS Deputy Commissioner Beth Tucker said that the IRS is currently severing its relationship with Strong Castle.

Another scandal involving the IRS touches on the use of IRS credit cards to purchase everything from diet pills, romance novels, steaks, a smartphone, and baby-related items by employees.  $119 in Nerf footballs were purchased and never used on the IRS credit cards, and $50 million was spent on IRS employee conferences as well.  At one luncheon, the IRS purchased 28 bottles of wine for 41 guests, while a dinner at the same conference cost the IRS $140 a person, or four times the allowable rate.  Between 2010 and 2011, on 361 separate occasions, IRS employees divided up their purchases on their credit cards to skirt the $3,000 limit on individual transactions.  These transactions amounted to $493,000, and none of the 94 employees responsible for the transactions were disciplined.

Additionally, recent revelations about the IRS scandal have revealed that the IRS also targeted progressive groups applying for 501(c)(4) status in much the same way as Tea Party and other conservative groups.  What originally appeared to be an IRS effort to target fringe right wing organizations has now developed into a more widespread effort to target political groups on both sides of the spectrum, with a particular emphasis on those groups outside of the mainstream of both the Democratic and Republican establishments.

As it turns out, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa specifically requested that the treasury inspector general's office refrain from going beyond examining Tea Party groups on Be On the Lookout lists compiled by the IRS.  This gave the appearance that only Tea Party groups were being targeted, when in fact progressive groups were also being targeted with the same BOLO lists for inappropriate scrutiny.  The net result was this: any group that fell outside of the establishment of the two major political parties was likely to run the same three-fold gauntlet: first, they were singled out for review; second, they were asked inappropriate questions; and finally, their applications were delayed.

If the allegations are true, they would undermine Issa's credibility and perhaps the entire investigation, which would have the effect of burying the likely truth: establishmentarian stalwarts within the IRS, acting at the behest of the partisan interests, tried to sideline those groups on both the conservative and progressive sides who were trying to challenge the establishmentarians of both major political parties. As a result, they were sidelined and effectively disenfranchised in the election.

That's the real IRS scandal, and the Roundup for today.

Alien and Sedition Media: Boston Revisited, 600th Post UPDATED

Today is a special day in the history of Screed of Momus, because this post is our 600th post.  Between unpublished material and published material, we've got 600 posts up, and nearly 175,000 visitors who've read, listened, or watched.  Here's to 1,000 posts, and to provide even more information and content for the future.  To the readers, listeners, and viewers, thanks for your past (and continued) support.  To those like Greg W. Howard, Patrick Read, STXherry, and mikepfs, as well as the DRScoundrels crew, the Twisters, those within the libertarian, minarchist, and anarchist communities who've supported our site like Tachyon Web and jkrswild, our thanks.  And to those who have provided us with leaks, both within and without Anonymous and Lulzsec, we say thank you as well. Without your support, and your efforts to get the truth out, we wouldn't have had nearly this level of success. While our audience is small compared to many other websites, it's ferociously loyal.  Here's hoping you enjoy this, our 600th post, and Part I of Boston Revisited.

Jay Batman

Version 2 is at the top, the original is at the bottom

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Michael Hastings and the Internet Rumor Mill

Buzzfeed reporter Michael Hastings, whose reporting for Rolling Stone is largely credited with ending the career of General Stanley McChrystal, died in a car crash last week. Predictably, the Internet came alive with the buzz of conspiracy theories and character assassination.  As it related to the former, conspiracy theorists around the Internet seized on an email Hastings sent before his death to his colleagues and friends advising them of his suspicions that he was under FBI investigation.  The email was said to be at least circumstantial proof that Hastings could have been assassinated by the U.S. government.

On the other side, the establishment media, and even those on the Right, looked at the email as circumstantial proof in their crusade to assassinate the character of a deceased reporter.  There were rumblings that Hastings had used drugs in his past, and that he was under stress as a result of his paranoia over a story he was writing involving Florida socialite Jill Kelly, whose emails with ex-CIA director General David Petraeus led to his eventual ouster as an affair with a reporter was uncovered.

From Robert Stacy McCain, in his piece Hope, Fear, and Michael Hastings, we had the following:

Alternatively, had he become so stressed-out — his friend, Current TV host Cenk Uygur, said Hastings was “a nervous wreck” in his last days — that he’d gone on a late-night binge? Hastings had reportedly struggled with drug and alcohol problems in his youth, and he may have been driven to relapse by fear that the feds were after him.
The whisper campaign about Hastings' drug and alcohol problems omitted any context; Hastings himself provided the basis for the story of his own drug and alcohol use by admitting in his blog to using drugs until he was 19 years old.  At no time during Hastings' coverage of McChrystal's aides, including visits to bars where the aides allegedly got shitfaced, did Hastings ever indulge in alcohol or any other substance. In fact, there is no allegation that Hastings used drugs of any sort after he was 19.

Still, the mainstream media and the bloggers on the Right all hastened to seize on a personal disclosure to perhaps explain why Michael Hastings was spotted speeding through an intersection in Hollywood just before 4:25 a.m. in the morning.  It might have been a relapse, they suggested.  He was a nervous wreck, even though his reputation for having steely nerves was rock-solid as a journalist who had been embedded in Afghanistan.


For those on the right, Hastings's coverage of General McChrystal wasn't "headline stuff to anyone who knows how soldiers talk."  In fact, the bigger issue among right-wing bloggers, journalists, and their liberal counterparts in the media was Hastings's willingness to actually report those sentiments.  Again, Robert Stacy McCain's piece sums it up best:

"But there were critics who accused Hastings of engaging in unfair “gotcha” journalism against Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, quoting his aides making derogatory comments about civilian leaders under circumstances where these ranking military staffers might have reasonably thought they were off the record."

It was unfair to the aides, really.  Even though McCain goes on to note the value of Hastings's article: it drew attention to the fact that Afghanistan was a fiasco, an exercise in futility without any clear direction forward.  Other journalists covered the microcosms of Afghanistan, from the sexual trafficking of young boys by the Afghan elite and its alleged connections to U.S. contractors like DynCorp, to the $1 billion annually in U.S. military aid funds siphoned off to the Taliban in bribes to ensure safe passage for humanitarian convoys.  Hastings traced it to a drunken leadership, sophomoric and all too quick to deride their civilian leaders, and finally drew a line right to the senior command in Afghanistan.

For this, he was disparaged for having broken the trust of his sources, which really weren't sources at all. They were incompetent, unprofessional, drunken aides to General McChrystal, who felt so at ease with their lax command that they could unburden themselves in the presence of a journalist.  There are two takeaways: one, if other journalists were observing similar behavior and failing to report it, they were complicit; and two, if General McChrystal wasn't doing anything to control his senior staff and maintain professionalism, it was his fault that the news of that staff's behavior broke.

McCain noted what all of his colleagues in the wider media attempted to portray as an exculpatory finding for General McChrystal:

"A subsequent inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general found no proof of wrongdoing by McChrystal and disputed the accuracy of Hastings’ reporting, but that was after the general had retired and Hastings won his award."

McCain shared this characterization of the Inspector General's report with the New York Times, whose obituary reiterating this same theme evoked an irate response from Hastings' widow Elise Jordan, who directly quoted from the IG's report to refute the Times obituary and reporting:

"If a reporter at the Times actually would read and properly analyze the Pentagon report, they would find exactly the opposite. The report clearly states: “In some instances, we found no witness who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported. In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article.”"
It is indeed surprising that those who made comments disparaging Vice President Biden and the strategy in Afghanistan would not come clean with the Inspector General's investigation.  It's staggering that the Pentagon's own review would produce a sanitized finding exculpating its officers of wrongdoing.  In fact, the same office of Inspector General whitewashed multiple inaccurate statements by Pentagon officials to the 9/11 Commission, which prompted the members of the Commission to request an investigation into why so many statements given by Pentagon officials to the Commission were riddled with inconsistencies.

Some of the inconsistencies included the Pentagon's insistence that NORAD had tracked United Flight 93 and were prepared to shoot it down. As it turns out, later investigations revealed that the Defense Department was not even aware of Flight 93 until it crashed into a Pennsylvania field.  From the New York Times:

"In a report dated May 27, 2005, but not released until Friday, the inspector general’s office found that “the inaccuracies, in part, resulted because of inadequate forensic capabilities,” including poor log-keeping at the military air traffic control centers." 
In order to avoid being convicted of perjury or lying to the 9/11 Commission, the government's officials did what they always do: they plead guilty to incompetence.  They didn't lie deliberately; they lied because the record-keeping was poor.  Despite this context, Robert Stacy McCain and others throughout the media were quick to cite the Inspector General's report as evidence of Hastings' shortcomings in reporting on General Stanley McChrystal and his staff.

What McCain and the rest of his compatriots in the media do not do is simple: actually cite the report's words.  Instead, what they do is cite the same summation of the report's findings, a summation that is demonstrably inaccurate and does not serve to exculpate General Stanley McChrystal or his staff.

This is what we know: Michael Hastings, by his own honest admission, used drugs until he was 19 years old.  He did not use drugs or alcohol with any member of General McChrystal's staff while embedded with that staff, even as they used alcohol.  No one has presented a credible report of Hastings using drugs after he turned 19.  In fact, there are more credible reports that the State Department's own Inspector General was told to cease and desist investigations into the use of drugs and prostitutes by contractors and ambassadors alike.

We also know that the many of the people who allegedly behaved in an unprofessional manner under McChrystal's command refused to confirm their unprofessional behavior.  We know that Hastings was engaged in breaking a story involving Florida socialite Jill Kelly, whose connection to General David Petraeus was a sidebar to the affair that eventually brought Petraeus down.  The story was reported to have linked the NSA to Kelly and Petraeus.  Given the context of the revelations of PRISM and other comprehensive surveillance projects, and Hastings' belief that he was being investigated by the FBI, the implications are chilling.

That's it. The media is effectively reporting Michael Hastings drug use as though it was an ongoing struggle, when according to what we know, it ended when he was 19 years old.  Even if Hastings had used drugs recently, it does not explain what he was doing speeding along in Hollywood at 4:25 a.m. when he crashed his Mercedes into a tree and died.

All of the speculation that Hastings believed he was being chased isn't substantiated by the video footage that has been held out as possibly Hastings' silver Mercedes C-250 zooming through an intersection.   The footage shows no other vehicles following in pursuit.  There's no evidence beyond speculation to suggest that Hastings was intoxicated.  The question remains: why was Michael Hastings driving his car at a high rate of speed along a highway in Hollywood at 4:25 a.m. in the morning?

The FBI denies that it was investigating Hastings, so why did he think the FBI was investigating him? Why would Michael Hastings believe the FBI was investigating him so strongly that he sent his employers and associates an email advising them of what to do if the FBI showed up at Buzzfeed headquarters?  The FBI denial comes on the heels of revelations that the FBI shot an unarmed associate of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's, 27 year old Ibragim Todashev, allegedly after all other law enforcement officers had stepped out of the room in Todashev's apartment, leaving him alone with the agent who would shoot him seven times, killing him. Todashev was shot six times in the torso and once in the back of the head.

The FBI initially said he was armed and attacking an agent, but sources within the FBI eventually told the Washington Times that Todashev was unarmed and alone in the room with one agent.  Two of the three law enforcement agents speaking to the media about the shooting changed their stories within twelve hours of the shooting.  Given these revelations, and the FBI's history of issues with veracity and civil liberties abuses, the FBI's denial of an investigation into Michael Hastings ought to strain the credulity of the credulous.

Yet many in the media, including those on the Right, are rushing to regurgitate talking points about the FBI's denial, Michael Hastings' drug use, and the Pentagon IG's report that supposedly exculpated General McChrystal and found errors with Hastings' reporting, even though the report neither exculpated McChrystal or his staff nor found any errors with Hastings' reporting.

Why Might Michael Hastings Have Been Speeding?  

None of the media's reporting examines one central fact that we know beyond the shadow of a doubt: at around 4:20 a.m. in the morning, what appeared to be Michael Hastings' Mercedes was captured on a dashcam speeding through an intersection by an off-duty freelance videographer whose assignment on Justin Bieber's alleged hit and run hadn't panned out.  Minutes later, that same videographer responded to the scene of Hastings' death, recording his car going up in flames after it crashed.

According to the Los Angeles County investigators, Hastings' car was speeding so fast that when it crashed, the engine flew 100 feet from the car.  The tentative estimate of Hastings' speed before the crash was over sixty miles an hour.  The question then becomes simple enough: why?  Why was Hastings speeding at 4:25 a.m.?

No other car appears to be chasing his vehicle in the footage shot by the dashcam.  The FBI insists that it was not investigating Hastings.  What we know is that Hastings, who believed he was being investigated by the FBI, was working on a story tying the NSA into the Jill Kelly and David Petraeus story.

And that is where one plausible explanation for the high speed crash turns sinister.  Hastings drove a late model Mercedes with an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and Bluetooth capability. This is significant, because researchers from University of Washington and the University of California San Diego demonstrated in 2010 that ECUs could be hacked.  In fact, the U.S. has required all new cars since 2008 to have wireless tire pressure monitors, and it was through those monitors that Ars Technica tied in research from Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina to demonstrate that wireless sensors could be used to track vehicles, or feed bad data to the ECUs to cause a malfunction.

Whereas the University of Washington and the University of California San Diego researchers had experimented with ECU hacks that relied on physical access to hack the ECU, the Rutgers and South Carolina researchers demonstrated wireless capability for automotive hacks.  The researchers conclusively demonstrated the ability to override driver input, either by jamming the accelerator, speeding up the engine, jamming the brakes, or honking the horn.  Even if the attack were not wireless, the UW and UCSD researchers showed that an attack embedding code into a car's telematics unit could erase all evidence of its presence after a crash.

Considering that Michael Hastings was reporting on a story involving the biggest hacking organization in the world, an organization with the demonstrated technical capability to infect Iranian facilities with the Stuxnet virus, thereby destroying its centrifuges, there's a plausible explanation for his car's speed at 4:25 a.m. in the morning.  If the NSA didn't mount the attack on Michael Hastings, any one of its 2,000 contractors supplying 480,000 employees with Top Secret clearances could have if Hastings' reporting might have uncovered information that would have threatened their bottom line.

In the aftermath of PRISM, a plausible theory for Hastings' speed at 4:25 a.m. that does not involve disparaging him as a drug user does exist.  It's compatible with the notion that Hastings had stumbled upon a story that tied the NSA to the Petraeus story.  It's compatible with the NSA's technical capability, and the features of his vehicle.

And it also ties into the revelations of Edward Snowden and other NSA whistleblowers, who have alleged that the NSA has used its interception capability to listen in real time to the conversations of a sitting U.S. Senator, a sitting Supreme Court justice, and a general.  Margaret Newsham, a Lockheed Martin employee working for the NSA at the Menwith Hill listening station, alleged that she was able to listen to the real time phone conversation of Senator Strom Thurmond.  Russ Tice, a Bush era NSA whistleblower, alleged that the NSA ordered wiretaps of then-Senate candidate Barack Obama in 2004, and he further alleged that a current Supreme Court justice was wiretapped.  Tice blew the whistle on the wiretapping in 2005, which is perfectly in line with a wiretap of then federal appellate judge Justice John Roberts, who became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2005.

The NSA is the one agency receiving funding increases at a time when sequestration is leading to cuts for the military and the CIA, as Zero Hedge recently reported.  With the unparalleled ability to wiretap the communications of elected officials who determine the NSA's appropriations, or the appropriations of the NSA's contractors, the potential for abuse is unlimited.  With the technical capability demonstrated by the NSA in its Stuxnet attack, and the capacity alleged by Newsham, Tice, and Snowden, the likelihood that Michael Hastings had uncovered NSA surveillance of General Petraeus's communications with Jill Kelly only increases.  The possibility that Michael Hastings was killed to silence his reporting only increases as well.

With billions of dollars at stake, it is not at all unlikely that the NSA or its partners in the defense contracting community wouldn't think twice about killing a journalist in order silence embarrassing or threatening revelations.  When you consider the U.S. intelligence community's long influencing of the media, particularly with Operation Mockingbird, which employed 400 U.S. journalists and 25 media outlets, including the Washington Post and its publisher Phillip Graham, the reporting on Michael Hastings' death is not surprisingly short on details beyond his teenage drug habit and a regurgitated and inaccurate summation of the Pentagon's report on Stanley McChrystal.  Such is the way of the Internet rumor mill.