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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The Aspiring Defense Secretary Who Wants to Change the Intelligence Community

For the month of April we're profiling the individuals who made our inaugural list of the 30 top thinkers under 30, the young men and women we predict will have a serious impact on the social, political, and economic issues we cover every day here at Pacific Standard.
The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. (Photo: Public Domain)

Eugenie De Silva, 15, Military Studies

Eugenie De Silva describes herself as “not your average nerd.”

She graduated from high school at age 11, got her undergraduate degree at 14, and finished her master’s degree at 15 (both in Intelligence Analysis from American Military University, an online school). Next up is another master’s degree—this one in legal studies—from Harvard, and then a Ph.D. in politics from the University of Leicester.

“My proudest moment, however, will be the time that I can positively impact the U.S. government with my work,” she says.

(Photo: Eugenie De Silva)


Originally from Manchester, England, De Silva, who is of Sri Lankan descent, immigrated to America in 2004 with her dad, Eugene, a single father who teaches physics and chemistry at Tennessee’s Walters State Community College.

“He raised me in a household that was conducive to learning,” she says. “He supported me in my endeavors and paid out of pocket for all my studies, since I am too young to receive scholarships or student loans.”

While many kids dream of becoming president, De Silva’s goal is to become the secretary of defense. “The public should be able to trust that their government is working for them and taking into consideration their best interests,” she says.

It bothers her that intelligence officers don’t get enough credit for their successes due to the covert nature of their work. “However,” she points out, “intelligence failures are made extremely public which results in what I believe to be a distorted and unfair representation of the intelligence community. I hope to promote a more open relationship between the IC and the public without compromising the safety of the country.” Along the way, she wants to start a law firm to help people who are wrongly accused.

“I believe that anything is possible with the appropriate amount of hard work.” De Silva says. Her favorite quote, by Walter Bagehot, is, “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

She’s given talks with names like “The Use of Biometrics to Determine Deception” and “Fusion of Human Intelligence Operations and the Scientific Method,” and is the co-author of a textbook called Multidisciplinary Research for College Students. Through the Virginia Research Institute, she’s developing an online diploma program aimed at those who haven’t graduated high school, which she says “will combine novel teaching methods with vocational training.”

De Silva’s prolific nature isn’t reserved for academia. She taught herself to be a pianist and plays as often as she can. She’s also involved in gymnastics, martial arts, and soccer—two years ago, she was an assistant coach for a boys’ AYSO team. When she was 10, she published a children’s book called The Adventures of Princess Eugenie and is now writing a book about goal-setting for teenagers. She hosted a radio show called Just Kidding Around for a year and was briefly a television reporter in Kentucky.

What sets her apart that she’s accomplished so much so young? “I don’t consider myself to be special,” De Silva says, “since every person has their strengths and weaknesses.”

See our complete 2014 list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 here.