Following her career as a CIA operative during America’s War on Terrorism, Amaryllis’ writing and public commentary draw on her field experience to advocate for restraint in foreign military intervention and promotion of equality, entrepreneurship, and empowerment at home and overseas. Her videos on dialogue and nonviolence have been viewed more than 120 million times online and “A Field Between,” the recent CNN film about her reconciliation work in Iraq, was awarded the 2017 VOWSS award for best film direction at Cannes Lions.Amaryllis was born in New York City, the daughter of an English actress and American economist. Her father’s work focused on the developing world, moving their family every year of her childhood, and giving her an early sense of being at home in the farthest corners of Africa, SE Asia, Europe, and the former Soviet Union.
Returning to the United States when she was 16, Amaryllis applied to two colleges — the Naval Academy to study aerospace engineering and Oxford to study international law. Prior to making a decision, she traveled to the Thai-Burmese border to volunteer in the Mai Laa refugee camp and decided there to defer university and stay on, working with the Burmese democracy movement and eventually interviewing Aung San Suu Kyi for the BBC, which landed her a brief stint in Burmese prison at the age of 18, but also resulted in the first radio broadcast from Suu Kyi in almost a year.
Amaryllis matriculated at Oxford University in 1999 to study international law and spent much of the following three years in Dili, East Timor, working with Xanana Gusmao’s team to settle IDPs in the world’s newest country, and in Srebrenica, Bosnia, working on the reconciliation process to rebuild community trust in the wake of the 1995 massacre. While at Oxford, Amaryllis was influenced by the work of Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, John Stuart Mill, Jane Addams, and Robert Higgs.
In 2002, Amaryllis graduated Oxford with an honors degree and started graduate work in international security at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. There she developed an algorithm to predict terrorist activity under thesis advisor Dan Byman, a leading thinker on terrorism and US security policy. Asked by the University’s CIA Officer in Residence, Dallas Jones, to share the algorithm with the Agency, she began work as a political and terrorism analyst for SE Asia, commuting between Langley and Georgetown to finish her degree with honors. Following graduation, she moved into CIA’s Directorate of Operations and deployed as a Clandestine Service officer, focused on counterterrorism and counter-proliferation. She served in 16 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, before leaving government service in 2010.
Following her CIA career in the field, Amaryllis has been a vocal advocate of nonviolence and restraint in foreign military intervention, covering current events and offering analysis for CNN, National Geographic, al Jazeera, BBC, and other global news outlets. Her nonprofit organization, Operation Zoë, sends military veterans on humanitarian and entrepreneurship missions in former combat theaters, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. She speaks at events and universities around the world on the topic of peacemaking, personal responsibility and human freedom. Her videos about dialogue and nonviolence have been viewed over 120 million times online. She is the co-host of History Channel series American Ripper and lives in California with her daughter Zoë.