Name: Josh Lospinoso

Course: PRS in Statistics, Magdalen, Graduate

Spare time: Military Intelligence Officer

It’s not every day you get to meet a military intelligence officer who works for the National Security Agency (NSA), a cryptologic intelligence bureau of the US Department of Defense. Needless to say I was rather excited and intrigued to meet Joshua Lospinoso, a visiting American DPhil student from New Jersey who is studying statistics, specifically analysing actor-orientated social networks, in order to enhance his military intelligence work.

Lospinoso is far from the sinister and elusive government spy official that films and novels would have us believe. Warm, friendly and very open to my numerous questions, he chats with enthusiasm about his chosen career path. He explains that he was driven to join the army by the national crisis that America experienced as a result of the September 11 bombings.’I saw the army as a potential way to serve my country and do my duty.’ After a year’s worth of training with the National Guard, he enlisted in the army at the age of seventeen and since then has never looked back.

I ask him how he managed to choose between physical combat and the more technical military intelligence work. He smiles as he acknowledges that this decision is an ‘internal fissure’ for many army recruits. He explains how military intelligence was an opportunity for him to combine his two passions: academia and the army. He says, ‘I joined as a rifle man and it definitely appealed to me as seventeen-year-old coming out of high school with full energy. However, as I got more engaged with broader academia, engaged in understanding concepts and numbers and worked for the NSA and the military intelligence agencies, I realised that this was probably a better way to apply myself.’

With mention of the NSA, I press him for further details on what exactly his work for the agency involves. Here he pauses for a moment, saying that he needs a bit of thinking time before he answers as he has to be careful about NSA privacy concerns. At this point, I suddenly remember that I am talking to an intelligence officer privy to a wealth of top secret information that the ordinary citizen will never have access to, let alone even be aware of. He explains that his research on social network analysis is ‘very related’ to the work he does for the NSA. ‘If you think about the most pertinent issues a soldier is facing in Afghanistan or Iraq right now, what’s causing casualties, what’s causing major destruction and instability in the region – those problems are the ones we’re tackling.’ He highlights the importance of analysing social network data in order to help the army improve strategies. He explains that it is crucial for army leaders to know with whom to communicate when they enter a new region, especially in a country like Afghanistan where there is a huge amount of tribalism and thus enormous cultural differences from region to region. He says, ‘We’d like to be able to know when we go into an area how to quickly assess social relationships and ideologies so that we can understand who the powerbrokers are.’

However, Lospinoso, who won the prestigious Rhodes scholarship enabling him to study at Oxford, is using his time here to experience a very different lifestyle to that of a military intelligence officer. He is full of enthusiasm for the University, describing it as ‘a wonderful contrast to being in the army’ and ‘a bit of a culture shock’. Indeed, he explains that while one of the best things about the army is the structure, which ‘cuts a lot of clutter out of your life’, it does also ‘make it difficult to be creative and innovative.’

As he tells me about his plans to take his first trip to Afghanistan to train division analysts, it becomes clear that passion for military intelligence and loyalty to the army are the key forces driving the life of this far from ordinary twenty-three-year-old student.