Billy Reilly was a confidential source who worked part-time for the FBI’s counterterrorism unit, paid to use his language and computer skills to infiltrate terror and criminal networks. When Billy went missing during an operation in Russia, the FBI feigned ignorance about his activities and whereabouts. Billy’s parents, William and Theresa Reilly, were undaunted by the agency’s stonewalling and silence. As Brett Forrest reports at The Wall Street Journal, they traveled to Russia themselves to unravel the mystery and bring their son’s remains home.

The FBI’s counterterrorism work grew to preventing attacks. To help, the agency recruited workers like Billy Reilly, part-timers with the right skills to infiltrate terror or criminal networks, either in person or through online chat rooms and social media.

These sources work in a dangerous world, with little training and fewer of the institutional protections afforded full-time FBI agents. They draw no government benefits beyond an occasional paycheck and a pat on the back. Yet they are critical to the FBI’s work to see plots in the fog of international jihad.

But over the course of four years, the Reillys would learn that no one in government wanted to take responsibility for their son’s work or for his safety, and that the families of confidential sources have little recourse when the FBI severs ties with their loved ones.

The Journal posed more than 100 questions to the FBI. Brian P. Hale, a spokesman, responded in an email: “The FBI never directed William Reilly to travel overseas to perform any work for the FBI.”

The Reillys spied the framed photos of FBI agents in jackets and ties as they passed into the waiting room. The woman behind the bulletproof glass asked why they wanted to see Agent Tim Reintjes. It had been a year since they had spoken with him.

“He knows us,” Mrs. Reilly said.

The woman left and in a few moments returned. “He has nothing to say to you,” she said.

“We have things to say to him,” Mrs. Reilly said.

The receptionist waved them off. “He doesn’t want to hear what you have to say,” she said.

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