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Helge Boes

A black and white close up of Helge Boes.

Helge Philipp Boes was with the Central Intelligence Agency a short time, but his entire life seemed to have pointed him towards the sense of purpose he found working for the Agency. Helge’s talent, tenacity, and presence of mind under fire earned him the respect of those far senior to him in experience.

On February 5, 2003, Helge – a special operations officer who had served in the CIA for only 2 years – was killed in a training accident while on a temporary duty (TDY) assignment in Afghanistan. At the time of his death, Helge was the 80th CIA officer in 56 years to die in the line of duty.

Early Years:

A US citizen born in Hamburg, Germany, Helge grew up in West Berlin and felt the impact of world affairs personally. Friends said that, for Helge, the choice between freedom and tyranny was as stark as the concrete and barbed wire that split his city in two.

He graduated from Berlin’s John F. Kennedy High School in 1989. An outstanding soccer player and gifted with an agile mind, Helge studied political science at Georgia State University and graduated in December 1992. In June 1997, he graduated from Harvard Law School and worked as an attorney in the corporate world in Atlanta.

Life at CIA:

Helge joined the CIA in January 2001 as a trainee in the Directorate of Operations Clandestine Service Trainee Class. It was a perfect fit. With a gift for languages, an instinctive sense for people, and a curiosity about the world, he was as much a natural in his new profession as he was in his old one. Helge was made for the work.

In only a few months, Helge showed the poise and skill that normally comes in years. He combined intelligence with charm, humor, and concern for others. Equally at home in the classroom and on the athletic field, he was a standout among the trainees of our Clandestine Service.

One of Helge’s ops instructors called him “a case officer’s case officer.” DO officers know how high a compliment that is.

As a newly graduated operations officer, Helge wanted to be on the front line of the Agency’s response to terror, so in Spring 2002 he volunteered for duty in Afghanistan¬æone of the first of his peer group to do so.

A few weeks later, a helicopter wove its way through treacherous mountain passes. In the cover of darkness, Helge was dropped off in a remote, high desert location in Afghanistan. Once on the ground, he quickly showed the traits that had earned him praise and friends alike: a flair for his work, passion for his mission, and concern for his colleagues.

With long hours and cramped, primitive conditions being the norm, Helge did more than complete his assignments¾he performed with skill and courage. He was close to the intelligence he needed to collect and closer still to the dangers that came with it¾rocket, mortar, and machine gun attacks.

In order to utilize his familiarity with Afghanistan, early in 2003 Helge volunteered for his second TDY there after only a few months back at Headquarters. The risks were real, but to Helge, so were the possibilities. He knew the place and he knew it held information vital to the nation’s security.

A colleague said “where some might see a dusty, wild environment full of danger, Helge saw opportunities to serve. Opportunities to make a difference.”

His Final Mission:

In February 2003, Helge Boes, a 32-year-old operations officer serving in Afghanistan, was killed when a grenade detonated prematurely during a live-fire training exercise on a weapons-training range, while he was preparing for an intelligence collection operation. Two other Agency employees were injured in the accident. Helge was the second CIA officer to die in the line of duty in Afghanistan. Johnny Micheal Spann, also 32, had been killed during the prison uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif prison in November 2001.

In his all too brief time with CIA, Helge Boes made powerful contributions to the cause of freedom. As former CIA Director George Tenet remarked when announcing the young officer’s death to the workforce, “Helge was everything a superior case officer should be: bright, energetic, and ever prepared to apply his skills where they were needed most. He believed deeply in our mission of defending freedom. And, in his all too brief time with us, he made powerful contributions to that cause.”

Helge was survived by his wife, brother, and parents. He was posthumously awarded the Agency’s Exceptional Service Medallion for his outstanding performance, courage, and sacrifice.

“For the life Helge led,” said Tenet, “one of courage and sacrifice, one of service without public reward—he has earned the gratitude of every American family.”

More CIA Heroes

Glen A. Doherty
William Pierce Boteler
Greg Wright