Welcome to the latest edition of Praescient’s Employee Spotlight! This feature calls out an exceptional Praescient employee who exemplifies our unique approach to analysis, technology integration, and software engineering. We’re excited to present a spotlight on Brett McCrae, Praescient’s Strategic Partnerships Lead. In this role, he builds and maintains relationships with Praescient’s partnered research organizations, vetting new software on client sites in order to develop opportunities for Praescient. Brett stopped by our HQ for an interview.
Charlotte: Praescient has long supported the Institute for the Study of War, with you playing a key role in standing up an advanced analytical platform and training their employees. What has been the most rewarding project you’ve worked on there?
Brett: One of the most interesting projects was working with their research director on a cutting edge platform to identify an VBIED campaign in Iraq.
After the US left Iraq, the Iraqi security forces were unable to maintain the previous level of security. The Shia and Sunni frictions that had always existed then erupted in a new way. What happened was the AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) started to come back into the picture, but it was not entirely clear in the open source where this threat was coming from – it could have been internal or some of it could have been spillover from Syria.
One of the signatures of AQI is the use of a VBIED, which is a vehicle borne improvised explosive device – essentially an IED in a car. In an aggressive campaign, They started planting these things in and around population centers in Baghdad and the surrounding area. Using our analytical platform, the ISW researchers and I we able to see how the campaign was conducted, what their strategy was and how it changed over time, whether they were targeting the Iraqi Police or the Security Forces, and when AQI was refitting and refueling for future incursions.
My team and I helped the ISW analysts to extract this volume of information from their software platform to put it into Ayasdi, which is another new technology partner that we are working with.
C: Ayasdi was named as a Top 10 Innovative Company by Fast Company. You’ve had the chance to work directly with this platform at ISW. How does it empower analysts and researchers?
B: Ayasdi does something that is very unique, it is the type of tool that can be very powerful if used correctly.
Ayasdi uses this idea of TDA, which is topological data analysis. Essentially, TDA takes a data set and gives it a shape. For example, if you looked at the data set and the shape was a perfect sphere, it’s really not that interesting. Nothing really stands out, there are no outliers. However, if the shape of the data set looked like a figure eight, then all of the sudden that’s really interesting. In that example, you have data being clustered together in different ways that diverge in two different directions. You can then begin to interrogate the data and ask why.
What it does really well is big data. And when I say big data I don’t mean a thousand rows, I don’t mean ten thousand rows. It is scalable to whatever you’d like it to be. Ayasdi will allow you to take an enormously large data set and determine how data relates to each other and what makes it different – what are the driving factors.
C: You are well-versed in the fields of international relations and policy. What are the biggest challenges facing policy-makers and researchers in the years to come?
B: The big issue in American foreign policy right now is how our country will respond to a defense budget that is no longer expanding at will. At the same time, in the past ten years, you’ve seen advancements in technology that have replaced people in a lot of ways. There are a lot of tools out there that, in theory, make our lives easier when it comes to conducting national security of foreign policy. There is a big question of how that works and how that works in a constrained budget environment.
C: I’ve also learned that you’re an avid fly fisherman and have worked as a professional guide – what drew you to that sport?
B: My mother’s side of the family is from Wyoming, and I would always go there for vacation. My grandfather taught me when I was really young to fly fish and to make my own flies and pretty much took it and ran with it. In college during the summer, I started guiding in Wyoming and Montana and it ended up taking me all over the world.
Thanks to Brett for a great interview – keep an eye on Praescient’s Ideas Blog for the next Employee Spotlight.
Praescient Analytics is a Veteran-Owned Small Business that delivers training, data integration, platform customization, and embedded analytical services in partnership with leading technology providers. Praescient’s teams of analysts and engineers provide comprehensive solutions to federal and commercial clients engaged in critical defense, law enforcement, intelligence, cyber security, financial, investigative, and legal analytics missions.
Charlotte Stasio is Praescient’s Communications Specialist.