Obituaries

Ex-CIA Agent Ken Moskow; Died Atop Mount Kilimanjaro

Ken Moskow was
Ken Moskow was "enthusiastic about everything," his wife said, and he enjoyed offbeat adventures. (Family Photo)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 6, 2008

Ken Moskow, a 48-year-old former CIA agent who worked in counterterrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, died of the effects of altitude sickness Sept. 19 while climbing 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, with a group of agency friends. He was within 20 yards of the summit when he died.

Born in Newton, Mass., Kenneth Andrew Moskow was a Concord, Mass., resident who had lived in Georgetown at times during his CIA career.

Energetic and -- in his wife's words -- "enthusiastic about everything," he often tested himself with offbeat adventures. After reading Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" in high school, he and his identical twin, Keith Moskow, hitchhiked across the country. During summers while a student at Harvard University -- where he was a Golden Gloves boxer -- he worked as a seaman in Hawaii and as a carpenter on Martha's Vineyard.

"He was the type of guy who would push himself to do the best he could in any activity," his brother said.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in history from Harvard, with honors, in 1983, he was accepted to law school but decided not to attend. "There are enough lawyers," he told his brother.

Drawn to a more adventurous life, he joined the CIA shortly after graduation. As an undercover operative, his first tour of duty was in Spain, where in his off hours he ran with the bulls in Pamplona and drove around Madrid in a conspicuous red Mustang convertible.

His second tour was in Nicosia, Cyprus, where he focused on international terrorism with assignments in Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, Mr. Moskow, at age 30, retired from the agency and enrolled in the mid-career program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. After receiving his master's degree in public administration in 1991, he established the Boston-based American Venture Corp. to do real estate development work in Central America and elsewhere.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Moskow rejoined the CIA. It was a difficult decision to give up his pleasant, predictable life, but, as he reminded his brother, he was one of the few people who had actually been trained in anti-terrorism. "I need to do it," he said.

Based in the District, he held senior positions in the Counterterrorist Center, working to keep nuclear weapons in the former Soviet republics out of the hands of terrorists. As he told his brother, he spent time in every single country that ends in "stan."

His second tour of duty was in Paris, where he was named a station chief and coordinated the CIA's anti-terrorism effort across Europe.

"He was very good at what he did," said a CIA officer who is not allowed to speak publicly and requested anonymity. "What's remarkable is that after being really successful on the outside, he wanted to come back in and get right in the middle of the fight. He was involved in some very big things and hopefully saved lives."

In 2006, after almost nonstop CIA work and work-related travel, he retired a second time from the agency. He moved back to the Boston area with his wife and young children and reactivated American Venture Corp.

Survivors, in addition to his brother, of Cohasset, Mass., include his wife of eight years, Shelagh Lafferty Moskow; three children, Samantha Moskow, Michaela Moskow and Jack Moskow, all of Concord; his parents, Michael and Donna Moskow of Newton; another brother, Cliff Moskow of Concord; and a sister, Carla Moskow of Malindi, Kenya.

Mr. Moskow was excited about the six-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, Keith Moskow said. He was in good shape and had prepared by climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a pack stuffed with books strapped to his back. A fellow Kilimanjaro climber told Keith Moskow that his brother's last words, with the summit just a few yards away, was a quiet admonition to himself: "Come on, Ken! Come on!"


© 2008 The Washington Post Company