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Into the Wild meets Red Notice, The Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Forrest’s extraordinary Lost Son unspools the story of Billy Reilly, a young American enlisted by the FBI to develop intelligence, who vanishes during a mysterious trip into Russia’s war against Ukraine, leading his parents on a desperate search through espionage’s hall of mirrors.
Billy Reilly was an iconoclast. Sept. 11th awoke in him a curiosity for global conflict, religions, and people beyond his small town. Growing up in Oxford, Michigan, Billy had trouble connecting with others. Online, he taught himself Arabic and Russian. He read the Quran during class at his Catholic school and spoke of an Islamic conversion. His passions led him into jihadi Internet forums, attracting the attention of the FBI, which recruited him as a Confidential Human Source.
An amateur drawn into professional intelligence, Billy was an FBI tri-lingual counterterrorism researcher. Later, as an operative in the field, he monitored terrorist plots, conversed with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, under assumed identities cultivated FBI investigative targets in Metro Detroit, and pitched in on cases of major national-security significance. When Russia fomented war in Ukraine’s Donbas region, Billy found a new fascination. Taking a desperate gamble, he set out on a quest. In Russia, freed from the Internet and enraptured by his own true adventures, Billy severed communications.
His parents, desperate and bewildered, turned to the FBI for help but struggled to find answers. Had the FBI dispatched Billy abroad, or had he gone on his own? Would anyone in Washington help find Billy and bring him home? Grasping for clues, the Reilly family turned to Brett Forrest. Picking up where the Reillys had left off, he staked out on his own investigation.
Applying years’ worth of determined reporting and research, Forrest unveils the inner workings of the U.S. national-security machine through one family enmeshed within it. His reporting leads him through encounters with jihadi suspects in Michigan and Russian nationalists and spies in Moscow and Kiev, and inside the Department of Justice in Washington.
Lost Son is a masterwork of reporting, a tour de force composed like a thriller, blending political maneuvering and international espionage while illustrating one man’s coming of age amid new global dangers in this modern American fable.
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