News outlet Al Jazeera has acquired declassified FBI documents relating to deceased Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings. Hastings died in a single-car accident in June.
The documents were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Al Jazeera and Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral student at MIT specializing in FOIA research. They were described as "heavily redacted."
One of the excerpts was reportedly "completely redacted and marked 'S' (for 'secret') and 'Per Army,' under an exemption aimed at protecting national security."
The documents show that the FBI wanted to “memorialize” a piece Hastings wrote in June of 2012 titled “America’s Last Prisoner of War.”
The piece was on Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl is believed to have been held captive by the Taliban since June of 2009.
The documents show that Hastings was put into direct contact with the family of Bowe Bergdahl when writing his piece on him. Bergdahl’s family showed Hasting emails sent by Pfc. Bergdahl in the time leading up to his 2009 deployment. In one of those emails, Bergdahl says he is “ashamed to even be American” and says that “if this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.”
The FBI says this excerpt "ignited a media frenzy, speculating about the circumstances of [redacted] capture, and whether U.S. resources and effort should continue to be expended for his recovery."
Jeff Light, an attorney who filed the FOIA lawsuit, says that memorializing work of reporters is not common. "It's interesting [that] the FBI memorializes controversial reporting," he said.
In the days before his death, Hastings told a friend he was “on to a big story” involving the government. He also believed his family and friends were being investigated by government officials. The timing of his death in light of these details has led some to suspect that the government played a role in Hasting’s death. The FBI responded to these claims when they released Hastings documents.
A briefing attached to the released document says that “a search of the FBI Headquarters electronic surveillance indices has been conducted, and no responsive record which indicates that Michael Hastings has ever been the target of electronic surveillance was located.”
Three days after Hastings' death, the FBI responded to public suspicion of government involvement in Hasting’s car crash. At the time, FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller said that “at no time was Michael Hasting’s under investigation by the FBI.”
Eimiller told Al Jazeera today that nothing in the newly released documents indicates that Hastings was under investigation by the bureau.
"Being referenced in an FBI file does not make one the subject of an FBI investigation," she said.