Alex Kobray (SPS ’15)
A Counterterrorism Mastermind
By Rory Evans
Portrait by Sunny Facer
Alex Kobray was a second-grader in New Jersey on September 11, 2001. Her father was working in lower Manhattan. “I was in Spanish class, and the teacher was getting calls, and kids were leaving the class one by one,” she recalls. “My mom picked me up, and I remember seeing the attacks on the news and trying to get in touch with my dad.” Her father did come home, but other kids in her town weren’t so lucky.
In a way, Kobray’s entire career was shaped by that day. “It devastated me and it fascinated me,” she says. “Why would people do that?” Today, as the director of physical security and counterterrorism at Flashpoint, a New York–based business risk intelligence company, she is still trying to find out. Of course, when she was growing up, she didn’t necessarily have the word—intelligence—in mind. “I’ve always been interested in languages, cultures, geopolitics,” she says.
Kobray is a self-professed wonk whose favorite TV programs in high school were the Sunday morning political talk shows. Her husband teases her “that the only books I read are nonfiction.” (When she makes a foray into fiction, it’s something like Zero Dark Thirty.) She’s been working in intelligence and counterterrorism since she was an undergraduate at George Washington University; she’s had jobs at the Afghan Embassy and Interpol, then joined Flashpoint before graduating. She’d already started honing her focus on jihadism when she started working on her master’s at the School of Professional Studies’ Center for Global Affairs. “I was getting in the weeds of terrorism,” she says of the way she and her Flashpoint colleagues were looking at “how jihadists worked and communicated on the dark web.”
One example: “We ID’d a white supremacy extremist,” Kobray says. “We were able to see his [path] from vandalizing trash cans with anti-Semitic stickers to ultimately discussing violence.”
Kobray now appears on the very same political talk shows she liked so much as a teenager. NBC News contracts with Flashpoint for analysis and vetting of information. While most of the work is done off-air, when she does go before the camera, “it’s an out-of-body experience,” Kobray says. “I’d rather be behind my computer. But I do love talking about this stuff.”
Kobray is a self-professed wonk whose favorite TV programs in high school were the Sunday morning political talk shows.