Peer de Silva (1917-1978) was an American Army officer and a station chief for the CIA.
De Silva was born in San Francisco. He joined the Army in the 1930s before earning an appointment to West Point, graduating in 1941. De Silva was assigned to Los Alamos, where he was put in charge of project security. He was the only West Point graduate to serve at Los Alamos. He was later part of the security escort that sent the atomic bombs to Tinian Island in the Pacific.
In one amusing instance, de Silva barged into J. Robert Oppenheimer’s office, asserting “I have a complaint.” A scientist had apparently come into his office and sat on the corner of his desk. Oppenheimer replied, “In this laboratory, Captain, anybody can sit on anybody’s desk.”
Physicist John Manley remembered of de Silva, “He was very smooth. Gosh, a perfect gentleman, polished and very considerate and so on.” Project historian David Hawkins remembered him differently, asserting that “[de Silva] was profoundly suspicious of everyone.” De Silva was suspicious of Hawkins (a former Communist Party member), Robert Serber and Charlotte Serber, and of Oppenheimer for appointing them.
De Silva wrote in a 1943 memo, Oppenheimer “has allowed a tight clique of known Communist or Communist sympathizers to grow up about him within the project, until they comprise a large proportion of they key personnel in whose hands the success and security of the project is entrusted…In the opinion of this officer, Oppenheimer either must be incredibly naïve and almost childlike in his sense of reality, or he himself is extremely clever and disloyal.” Oppenheimer would have his security clearance revoked in 1954.
De Silva went on to join the CIA, and served in Germany, Austria, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam. In 1964, de Silva was appointed as the CIA’s station chief in Saigon. He later wrote a book about his experiences called Sub Rosa: The CIA and the Uses of Intelligence.
De Silva received the Legion of Merit from the Army, and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Intelligence Service Medallion from the CIA for his service.
Peer de Silva died on August 13, 1978 in Great Falls, Virginia.