This article is part 2 in a series examining how the democratic primary candidates running in New York’s 19th Congressional District have served the public — not since they announced their candidacies, but in their lives as a whole. Dave Clegg, Brian Flynn and Gareth Rhodes were examined in the first part of the series, which can be read here. Now, onto the next candidate looking to unseat Republican John Faso — Pat Ryan.
Pat Ryan pointed to his time in the Army and as a businessman when asked how he has served the public.
The 36-year-old Ulster County native was deployed twice to Iraq — first to a small city north of Baghdad, then to Mosul during the height of the insurgency in 2008. After returning to the states, Ryan helped found and run a series of data-analysis and information businesses, companies he said trained and employed fellow veterans, who often have a hard time adjusting to civilian life.
One of these companies, Dataminr, focused on shifting through Twitter traffic to track events and people in real time. Dataminr — which received financial support from the CIA’s venture capital firm and counted the FBI and NYPD as clients — came under scrutiny by the American Civil Liberties Union of California for contracting with law enforcement agencies to monitor activists, including those involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, according to an Intercept exposé.
Ryan defended Dataminr during his interview, saying he was “proud” of the company, and pointing to its work with media companies and first responders.
Ryan in Iraq
Ryan was born in Hurley, NY, just outside of Kingston, and attended Kingston High School, where he graduated in 2000.
Ryan immediately entered the United State Military Academy at West Point, where he studied international politics and foreign affairs, he said.
During his four years at West Point, America was attacked on 9/11, and the military invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq.
“It was a different time” when he first entered West Point, Ryan said, but when he graduated in 2004, George W. Bush’s War on Terror was in full swing.
Ryan served in the Army from May 2004 until July 2009, then was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve until September 2012, according to his Army Service Record.
He was deployed twice: from December 2005 until November 2006, then from December 2007 until February 2009. He served as a military intelligence officer, achieving the rank of Captain before his second deployment, and was awarded the Bronze Star twice, as well as the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement Medal, according to his service record — mid-level military accolades.
During his first deployment, 21 months after the U.S. invaded, Ryan was stationed in Ad Duluiyah, a small city north of Baghdad, serving as the deputy intelligence officer for an infantry battalion, he said.
“[We] were sort of trying to understand what was happening on the ground and what the threats were to U.S. forces and to Iraqis — so what were the tribal dynamics, what were the political dynamics, how was the economy working or not working, where might we want to [start] different projects, like fixing roads and sewage and things like that — all the way to understanding the insurgency that was starting to grow and form in the area, and also different political dynamics that tied into the formation of the insurgency,” Ryan explained.
During this deployment, “we were still conducting…a military campaign that really focused on a lot of offensive military actions by U.S. forces,” he added.
After a year of training in Colorado, Ryan was redeployed to Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, where he was now the lead intelligence officer for the same battalion, working in concert with the Iraqi military, he said.
Gen. David Petraeus had replaced Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq by this time, and the new leader focused on bringing the troops into closer contact with the Iraqi population.
“[We] put up small little outposts all throughout the city so we were part of the community instead of being in a big base and patrolling out of that every day,” he said. “That really helped us create stronger relationships with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Army and police, which actually helped us do our job much better.”
However, Ryan said he did not agree with the war, even while he was fighting it.
“I experienced reservations of going [to Iraq], but obviously I committed to serve, and I’m the kind of person who honors my commitments and promises when I make them,” he said.
His experience in Iraq taught him military force should be used “as an absolute last resort,” he said.
Though Ryan said he voted for Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary, he had issues with how she used military force in Libya.
The U.S. was part of a NATO-led coalition in 2011 that carried out a bombing campaign against long-time Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s government to support protesters and insurgents who began rebelling against Gaddafi earlier that year.
Gaddafi was killed and his government overthrown by late 2011, but disputes over a new government led to a low-level civil war that split the country between rival factions, including a branch of ISIS, which controlled territory in the country from 2014 until late 2016.
“I believe we were far overextended and over-involved in too many conflicts around the world,” Ryan said about the U.S. involvement in Libya. “…my experience serving in Iraq really taught me that our ability to go into a foreign country and try to fundamentally change it is near-impossible to do, and to try to do so costs nearly limitless amounts of money and treasure and the blood of Americans and [civilians].”
Ryan became close with his translator during his two deployments, an Iraqi civilian named Ali, and eventually fought to get Ali and his wife, Layla, immigrant visas through a U.S. State Department program set up to benefit Iraqi translators who worked with U.S. forces, he said.
However, the couple’s two children were not granted visas, because they were just over the age of 18, Ryan said.
The battle to get their children to the U.S. has “been going on for years, with lawyers and immigration officials — and it’s a mess and it’s just not right,” he said.
“We are so far off from what the spirit of our (immigration) policy should be, which is to open our arms to people who want to come here and make a better life for themselves…in the case of Ali and Layla — obviously people like them should be able to come here and their kids (too) — and you shouldn’t have to risk your life to come here, anyone who wants to come here should be able to come,” he said.
Ryan in the Business World
When he returned home, Ryan said he saw the struggles other veterans faced in the civilian world.
“A problem I really saw firsthand with a lot of soldiers…they were not able to make a good transition from their military service to getting good civilian jobs where they could really earn a good living and provide for their family and readjust to being back here,” he said.
Ryan co-founded Praescient Analytics, a data-analysis company, and recruited and trained veterans for the company’s workforce. The small company eventually grew to 150 employees, “well over half” who were veterans, Ryan said.
Ryan next started Second Front Systems, a boutique cybersecurity firm, which also employed mostly veterans, he said.
Ryan also accumulated wealth from his business dealings. His money is heavily invested in the stock market, and his assets were between $480,000 and $1.3 million as of Oct. 2017, according to his financial disclosure report, though he is still paying off two mortgages.
Ryan also earned $232,150 in the first nine months of 2017 as senior vice president at Dataminr, according to his financial disclosure report.
The Intercept printed their article about the company’s tracking of political activists this February, two years after Twitter restricted data access to law enforcement agencies because of their surveilling of activists using Dataminr products, according to the article.
“I’m proud of the work we did in Dataminr,” Ryan said when asked about the company, pointing to work the company has done with media outlets and first responders.
The company launched “Dataminr For News” in early 2014, with CNN as its first client, according to TechCrunch. It is now used by such media outlets as The New York Times, Radio France, The Huffington Post and The Daily Telegraph.
In May 2017, Dataminr brought its services to emergency personnel, launching a product that promised to provide first responders with information about emergencies in real-time, according to TechCrunch.
When asked about internet privacy, Ryan said it was something he wanted to address if elected.
“I think in this world of social media data, we have to absolutely balance keeping people safe and protecting people’s privacy,” Ryan said.
“I’m excited to help draw more lines to assure that we protect people’s privacy,” he added.
Ryan supports the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, he said, a plan developed by the Obama administration that would have granted internet users more control over their personal data, and more transparency and limits on how the data is used.
He also wanted the U.S. to emulate some of the policies found in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, a series of laws going into effect in late May that strengthen user control over personal data on the internet and includes “The Right to be Forgotten” — the right for EU citizens to have their personal information erased online if they chose.
One of the first things Ryan learned as a cadet at West Point was that an officer must have the ultimate responsibility for their soldiers, he said.
Ryan wants to bring this concept of “selfless service” taught in the military to Congress if elected, something that is currently lacking, he said.
Correction: The article has been updated with the correct spelling of Layla’s name.