“Hey, Bob. I want you to meet John. We are partnering with his company to track some illicit trade activity.”
Across the desk sat a 60-something, barrel-chested man with a warm smile. Behind his desk stood a stack of books that included classics, treaties on non-proliferation and everything in between. From his office wall hung a battle map from the Iraq War, a Sikh’s comb, knife and bracelet, a plate engraved with Arabic text, photos of his children, and pictures of him with General Stanley McChrystal and other high-ranking military officers I recognized but could not place.
Generally, I conduct a severe amount of research into people before I meet them. But this meeting was unexpected. After a few quick glances at the wall, I picked up that he was a Green Beret in the United States Army who had studied at West Point and who speaks 4 languages — smart, tough and impressive all around. Bob ran logistics for the Iraq War, and we spent more than an hour discussing the proliferation of drugs, human trafficking and poaching networks that he had dealt with. He dropped the F-bomb enough to put me at ease.
Afterward, I shuttled through meetings with representatives from other governmental and non-governmental organizations whose acronyms created a veritable alphabet soup.
“Can you spend 10 minutes with these guys, John?”
“Sure.” Then it was off to another impromptu meeting to discuss JetTrack's worldwide coverage with 2 men, neither of who gave a name.
One had a cleanly shaved head and strong jaw. He was in an amazing physical condition belied by his soft-spoken manner. The crisp sleeves of his white button-down shirt were rolled up, proudly displaying the tattoos covering his arms — one featured an anchor and line.
“Are you Navy?”
The other man was frumpier, wearing dad-style khakis and a golf shirt.
“Where are your tattoos?”
“None exposed,” he said. “I’m not ex-military.”
“He’s a civilian,” the Navy man quickly added. I was not so sure.
In addition to discussing JetTrack, we talked about using technology to monitor drugs heading into the United States das well as the military’s 4-year procurement cycle that prevents it from harnessing emerging technologies mid-cycle. During that meeting, the Navy man told the other that they would continue funding his think tank for another year.
It’s amazing how things get done in DC.
This group is different than traditional think tanks. They hire young, bright analysts who speak many languages and give them leeway to go deep on a vertical — not unlike the Brookings Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, or RAND Corporation. But this one is run by an Army Special Forces colonel who holds a degree in computer science. It levers technology and open data to resolve global conflict and address transnational security issues.
Because it is small, agile and operates without the country-to-country mandate given to larger, state-run intelligence agencies, this think tank simply performs research on specific topics and then briefs the proper agencies weekly in DC. Given the people I met with over several hours, and given the names of people and organizations casually dropped over lunch, it is clear this group is well connected and highly respected. The United States Special Forces Command finds enough value in the think tank’s intelligence to continue funding it for at least another year.
The financial use case for JetTrack is clear. But, with little additional work, we can also offer the service to defense, law enforcement and intelligence agencies and organizations.
In fact, JetTrack may be entering a strategic partnership with the think tank to create defense/compliance applications. These applications might include the real-time tracking of Russian oligarch fleets seeking to evade sanctions, filtering bulk data to find riskier LATAM flights, and even the monitoring of aircrafts entering no-fly zones.
“Applications are pretty endless.”
We couldn’t agree more.