Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Johnny Micheal Spann
This is a part of our series about CIA employees who have died in the line of duty, making the ultimate sacrifice for the United States of America.
Currently, there are 90 stars carved into the marble of the CIA memorial wall. The wall stands as a silent, simple memorial to those employees “who gave their lives in the service of their country”. The CIA has released the names of 55 employees; the names of the remaining 35 officers must remain secret, even in death.
Action. Responsibility. Leadership. These are words Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann used to describe himself in his application to the CIA. He took these traits with him when he deployed in the fall of 2001 to Afghanistan as part of the government’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Mike was conducting initial interviews of extremists held in Qali-Jangi fortress at Mazar-e Sharif when hundreds of prisoners revolted and he was attacked. His last act, just before he was killed by those who had supposedly surrendered, was to warn an Agency colleague of the imminent danger. Mike was the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan. His life was taken on November 25, eight years ago today. His actions in the six weeks he was in the country made a major contribution to the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in north-central Afghanistan.
From Alabama to Washington
The son of Johnny and Gail Spann, Mike grew up in Winfield, Alabama. He played both wide receiver and running back for the Winfield High School Pirates football team. Mike attended Auburn University, where he graduated with a degree in criminal justice in 1992. In December 1991, while still at Auburn, he joined the Marine Corps as an artillery specialist. He spent eight years in the Marines, rising to the rank of captain.
Mike joined CIA in 1999 as a paramilitary officer. He graduated from the basic training program of the National Clandestine Service just a year before his death. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet described Mike as “quiet, serious, and absolutely unflappable … [his] stoicism concealed a dry sense of humor and a heart of gold.”
At Mike’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in December 2001, Director Tenet had this to say:
“It was in the quest for right that Mike at his country’s call went to Afghanistan. To that place of danger and terror, he sought to bring justice and freedom. And to our nation — which he held so close to his heart — he sought to bring a still greater measure of strength and security. For Mike understood that it is not enough simply to dream of a better, safer world. He understood that it has to be built — with passion and dedication, in the face of obstacles, in the face of evil.”
Johnny Micheal Spann’s star is the 79th carved on the Agency’s Memorial Wall and his name appears in the CIA Book of Honor. He is remembered for his courage and dedication. Mike received the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion posthumously.
Note: “Micheal” is spelled correctly.