Andy Kraag, Alumnus
Head of National Criminal Investigations Division, Netherlands

First Dutch student to attend the Naval Postgraduate School. Major in the Royal Netherlands Maritime Special Operations Forces. Head of the Netherlands’ National Criminal Investigations Division. The man behind each of these titles — Andy Kraag — can now add “director of one of the most significant police operations ever” to his list of accolades.

In a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) with French authorities, Kraag and his team recently compromised an encrypted network known as EncroChat, capturing 25 million messages and creating a shockwave of arrests in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and other countries throughout Europe. Prior to the operation, the network was a safe haven for criminals, enabling drug trafficking, murder, and other heavy crimes, while preserving criminals’ anonymity via untraceable messages.

Now, it’s a very different story. Beginning in April 2020, Kraag and his team began intercepting EncroChat messages and monitoring them in real-time, allowing them to ‘see’ live criminal activity and anticipate criminals’ every move. “It was as if we were constantly looking over the shoulders of tens of thousands of criminals,” Kraag said. In the Netherlands alone, the data is connected to more than 350 heavy crime cases and is already providing evidence on more than 100 of those cases. And in the United Kingdom, those numbers are exponentially larger.

“The criminal community is in distress, they know they are going to get caught. We now know the key leaders and the key networks and how they relate to each other, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Kraag says. “The hundreds of arrests from the past few weeks — those are just the quick wins. What is more valuable now is all the data we have access to. We can do an in-depth investigation of that and take out all of those criminal networks. We now have a blueprint of the underworld.”

But it’s a blueprint that is scattered amongst millions of messages, requiring significant time and expertise to effectively parse through — not to mention the added urgency of saving innocent lives and preventing violence. “You can imagine, it’s pretty stressful for me as the director because if a murder were to happen and the details were in the messages and we did not intervene on time, it would be on our account,” Kraag says. “It’s a big responsibility.”

 
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Brendan Ittelson, Alumnus
CTO of Zoom

In 2011, Brendan Ittelson graduated from NPS with a certificate in identity management, a learning experience that aligned perfectly with his position at the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) as a program analyst. Shortly after graduating from NPS, he transitioned into the private sector to work for fintech startup Dynamics. A few years later, he accepted the position as global head of support at Zoom. And most recently in April 2020 — shortly after the impact of the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and the need for video conferencing skyrocketed — Brendan became chief technology officer of Zoom. He spoke with us about his recent experiences at Zoom, his time at NPS and the future of online education. Read the full interview.

How would you describe your NPS experience?
The conversations and the deep dives into information … I still go back to it today because they are that poignant. It was so valuable to work cross-sector with people who worked in similar places but came from different perspectives to expand our thinking in a common topic area. That helped elevate the experience.

What led you to NPS?
I was working for the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) on a number of their identity programs —the CAC card program, RAPIDS system, also the Defense Biometric Identification System (DBIDS). I was very interested in the identity space and when NPS announced their program I was lucky enough to apply and get accepted.

What is intriguing to you right now in the field of identity management?
Especially with where our world is at right now, we need a new version of identity. How you prove you are who you say you are online and in operating in business — we are still trying to figure that out. The federal government made some big leaps in that space, especially with privileged identity management (PIM), but that hasn’t hit the global scale.

How you’re able to prove your identity to be able to continue to conduct business in this new normal becomes so critical. Think about the number of transactions that folks normally do in person that could be moved into a different setting if we had a stronger identity solution. A lot of companies are starting to work on that on their own. It’s a place where there is a lot of possibility in the near future to really revolutionize how we present ourselves online and maintain identify while also looking at security and privacy.

You became CTO of Zoom in April. What was it like stepping into that role during such an unprecedented time in the world and such an important and dynamic time at Zoom?
To say the least, things are busy. The company has a very humble culture and a focus on execution and doing what we can to deliver happiness in the world. As we started to ramp up as the need for video conferencing became greater in the world, it was all hands on deck. This is the time when folks need our technology the most, so we’re focusing on how we can help. That was the mode of operation then. As things continued to ramp up, I was very fortunate the organization saw the skillset that I had and that it aligned best with the CTO role.

What have been the most difficult challenges to work through?
Scaling the platform, and there’s also a big focus on the security of our platform. So being able to focus in on both of those areas simultaneously and make sure that we continued to execute required a lot of diligence and focus. We wanted to address concerns about that part of the product head on and have that dialogue and ensure we are continuing to raise the bar as an organization and a service. At the end of the day, we want to make collaboration frictionless and collaboration is what we need so much right now in the world.

 
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LT Brandon Carter, Master's Student
US Navy

Lieutenant (LT) Brandon Carter will graduate from NPS in September 2021 with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. He is currently working on his thesis research, which focuses on designing a test bed to analyze a circuit breaker for a hybrid electric propulsion aircraft for NASA. Lieutenant Carter looks forward to using his master’s degree as an Engineering Duty Officer in Yokosuka, Japan at the Ship Repair Facility, where he will serve in his next assignment. But right now, he’s focusing on making the most out of his time in Monterey. After becoming the Community Outreach Lead during the revitalization of the Monterey Chapter of the National Naval Officers Association (NNOA), he is now serving as president of the association. NNOA chapters exist to support the recruitment and retention of a diverse officer corps that reflects the demographics of the United States in order to enhance the Navy’s operational readiness.

Under LT Carter's leadership, the Monterey Chapter of NNOA has big plans to increase their presence. “We plan on reaching out to local high school ROTC units; continue cultivating the mentorship program between NNOA and Monterey High School with hopes to expand it to other local high schools; create avenues to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus; and establish a deeper connection between Monterey County and NPS to encourage a process for consistent engagement,” he says. “I also intend to get as many people involved in the NPS community as possible to learn and appreciate the cultural and emotional differences of one another so that we all become well-rounded leaders for the military.”

Through his role with the NNOA, Carter has also been able to speak virtually to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) about diversity and inclusion during an NPS Town Hall meeting. He says it has been a highlight of his NPS experience to be able to help bridge the gap between peers in different warfare areas and service branches.

“I hope to inspire as many people as possible to aspire past their intrapersonal and interpersonal limits,” he says. “I also hope to reduce the gap of understanding between different people in the service to maintain a forum of respect amongst all.”

It’s a hope that stems from the very reason he joined in the navy years ago. “My mother is a naval officer … she brought morals and principles from the military to raise my sister and me. I want to incorporate those traits into my character to influence people to embrace themselves as they are so they can become the best version of themselves for our nation.”

 
 

LCDR Ashley McAbee, PhD Student
US Navy

After completing her master’s degree in electrical engineering at NPS in 2013, Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Ashley McAbee returned to NPS in 2017 – this time for a PhD in the same subject. She is working toward a September graduation before she departs for the Navy Cyber Warfare Development Group in Washington, D.C. for her next tour.

LCDR McAbee says that after spending nearly six years total at NPS, she has gained an education not only in electrical engineering, but in problem solving, critical thinking, communication and leadership. “I’ve also had access to a network of field-leading faculty to support me in my career,” she says.

Her master’s thesis research looked at using image processing techniques to make sense of position data toward improved maritime domain awareness. She worked with the NPS Center for Multiple Intelligence Studies, which utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to integrate intelligence data from disparate sources and associated systems to improve results.

Now for her doctoral dissertation, she is focusing on optimizing the selection between moving target defenses, a concept of controlling change across multiple system dimensions to increase uncertainty and complexity for attackers. Her research will help reduce malicious hackers’ window of opportunity and increase the costs of their attack efforts.

After years of research at NPS, LCDR McAbee says she has “developed a new ability to tear apart an overwhelming problem until it becomes a set of less-overwhelming sub-problems, some of which [she] can at least approach and maybe even solve.”

Soon, she will be one of several Cyber Warfare Engineers in the D.C. area working to solve some of the most complex cybersecurity problems facing our Department of Defense. And after years of education, research and critical thinking at NPS, she is now even more equipped to do so.

LCDR McAbee recently authored an article “The Navy Needs Problem-First Innovation” published in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine. In the article, she articulates her thoughts on “problem-first innovation” and her views on setting conditions for fruitful and future-focused innovation. She also emphasizes the role of training and education, including NPS graduate programs, to develop sailors and officers who can understand and maximize the potential of technological innovations.

She writes, "U.S. military and naval advantages depend precariously on a technological edge over adversaries that is eroding. By becoming and remaining a Navy of future-focused problem solvers, today’s sailors and leaders can emulate the amazing Grace Hopper and maximize our chances of improving the Navy’s position, sharpening the edge, and cementing the advantage we inherited."

 
 

Maj Shane Robinette, Master's Student
US Marine Corps

For Major Shane Robinette, the Marine Corps was a calling. After receiving a degree in civil engineering from The Citadel and beginning a civilian career, he still felt led to serve. From his college experience, he knew that marines were unique. After working nearly two years as an engineer, he decided to visit a recruiter. The rest is history. He has been an infantry officer for 11 years. Prior to coming to NPS, Major Robinette served as a company commander and will return to the fleet as a technical information operations planner when he graduates in 2021.

Major Robinette is about halfway through his time at NPS and is building on the research started by another student. He is expanding on a computer program developed to train infantry officers in choosing the best formation based on several factors of any given scenario. The game gives users a brief description of the situation — including factors like terrain and enemy position — and asks them to choose from three formations. Major Robinette is expanding the simulation from the computer to both a phone application and virtual reality. He is studying whether these platforms are more effective than the computer program.

Statistics show that simulators lead to a higher success rate in training pilots, and Major Robinette believes this idea will translate to the infantry. He says virtual reality programs currently in existence can be adapted to train marines. The more simulations they run through, the better their judgement in real-world situations will become. While the Marine Corps currently has some technology for simulated training, Major Robinette is looking to simplify that equipment and increase the frequency of use.

Robinette and his family have enjoyed their time in Monterey, connecting with the community through church and the local farmer's market. While he says returning to school was initially challenging, he has enjoyed the time to balance his academics with family time.

 
 

Watch the Latest Virtual SGL, "5G: A Grand Economic Competition"

Is your audience informed about 5G? What is 5G? Who has the edge? What are the security implications of this transformational technology? Earlier this week NPS hosted prominent military cyber warriors retired U.S. Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander and retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Jan E. Tighe for a virtual SECNAV Guest Lecture (SGL) on 5G. They discuss the implications of competition for infrastructure and development and a vision of the revolutionary defense applications set to become reality thanks to 5G. Read more.

 
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