The FBI Lost Our Son
October 13, 2019 9:27 PM   Subscribe

Billy Reilly worked as a confidential source in counterterrorism for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, penetrating radical groups online with false identities. Then he disappeared. Wall Street Journal | The Journal Podcast
posted by peeedro (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Link is paywalled :-(
posted by knackerthrasher at 9:55 PM on October 13, 2019 [7 favorites]


Opens fine for me despite not having a subscription or registration
posted by knapah at 1:04 AM on October 14, 2019


Paywall.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:15 AM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is how the US is able to be "dirty", they recruit people who feel like they are serving the country, doing good and useful work for FBI/CIA/whoever... but from the handler's side they are disposable assets allowing deniability.

Really not cool to use citizens as tools like this.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:56 AM on October 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


The full article, un-paywalled, can be read here.
posted by SA456 at 6:47 AM on October 14, 2019 [14 favorites]


Uber for intel I guess
posted by The Power Nap at 7:55 AM on October 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


You can usually access a paywalled WSJ article through their Twitter feed.
posted by riruro at 8:05 AM on October 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


I though it was some impressive reporting, a journalist bit into the story and didn't let go for three years. But so many parts of the story raised more questions than it answered. Like Billy, reading between the lines he was a very online person who lived with his parents and didn't hold a regular job or have relationships with people in the real world, but because he could read and write enough Russian to use VK, the FBI was okay with him traveling to a war zone. Umm, okay.
posted by peeedro at 8:06 AM on October 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


Well told story. I didn't think it'd end with them actually finding his grave; was expecting some horrible open ended mystery.

I can't imagine what the FBI is playing at with this kind of source. I understand using irregulars to do online espionage, see what they figure out. But if he's going to actually go visit the dangerous places, wouldn't you want to prepare them? Keep a close eye on them? Or tell them to stay the fuck out?

Every time some young American hikers go missing in Iran or North Korea I always assume it's a story like this.
posted by Nelson at 9:24 AM on October 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


Nelson, *totally* agree about the missing hikers!

This was a really interesting story; how awful for his parents (but maybe good that they got some closure?).

Did you all think it was clear that he was sent there by the FBI? I'm not sure I got that from the story but am prepared to be told I'm being obtuse.
posted by n. moon at 9:47 AM on October 14, 2019


I think it's very unclear whether he was there at the FBI's request. They seem to have treated him at arms length as an informant. Let him go where he wants, then pay him to tell them what he learns. Maybe they feel that absolves them of responsibility. I don't.
posted by Nelson at 9:54 AM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


Did you all think it was clear that he was sent there by the FBI? I'm not sure I got that from the story but am prepared to be told I'm being obtuse.

The story is streamlined in the podcast and it makes the connection between these two paragraphs a lot more explicit:
As the Reillys later learned, Billy discussed the trip with Agent Reintjes. The evening after their final meeting, Agent Reintjes texted Billy: “Whatsapp, skype, viber?” Billy replied, “Once I load the apps, I’ll msg u the info.”

The FBI’s Confidential Human Source Policy Guide said a handler must give “an emergency communication plan” to a source traveling abroad.
While there's no implication that the trip to Donbas was an assignment from the FBI, it could have entirely been Billy's idea, it does sound like they knew what he was planning and had the chance to steer him away from danger. It also makes the FBI's actions after he went missing sound a lot more like damage control and stonewalling instead of an ambiguously unhelpful bureaucracy.
posted by peeedro at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh I see, thanks (both of you), that makes sense. It does seem like using people in this way both allows the FBI to deny responsibility and also use people who might otherwise not qualify as agents. It really doesn't seem like he was at all prepared (mentally or physically) to head into that kind of dangerous place...
posted by n. moon at 10:04 AM on October 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about is how the big agencies carry on when they don’t have as much of a recruiting pipeline of would be “company men”. One of the things I’ve been hearing about is the three letter agencies have started metricizing their work - good in some ways because it means people have to demonstrate value, bad in other ways because it loses job security and increases the likelihood of people doing unethical things in order to “demonstrate value”.

Hidden in there is that this is (like The Power Nap noted) basically like Uber for intelligence work - making the individuals assume all of the risk, for none of the reward and none of the intel that might have been protective in such situations. And also hidden in that story is that it resulted in a promotion for the agent who did this.
posted by corb at 12:17 PM on October 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


"it could have entirely been Billy's idea, it does sound like they knew what he was planning"

This is my reading, and maybe I'm reading too much between the lines, but it seems to me like the problems would have started when his Russian contacts found out that he wasn't just some rando American, but actually someone in contact with the FBI.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:11 PM on October 14, 2019


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