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Public Acknowledgment of CIA Officer Killed in the Line of Duty

Statement by CIA Spokesman Bill Harlow on the Public Acknowledgment of a CIA Officer Killed in the Line of Duty

December 3, 2001

Several self-described experts have appeared on television recently criticizing the CIA’s decision to publicly identify Johnny Micheal Spann, the CIA officer who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. These individuals have claimed that the decision was “unprecedented” and have even suggested that the Agency was exploiting Mr. Spann’s death in an effort to garner positive publicity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such comments are irresponsible and do a great disservice to the Agency, the people who work for it, and Mr. Spann’s family.

We generally don’t respond to outrageous remarks made by uninformed critics. But these claims, which have been aired on several national television networks, are so reckless, malicious, and cynical that we believe it is necessary and appropriate to respond.

The protection of sources, methods, and the identities of officers serving under cover is essential to the Agency and we go to great lengths to preserve operational security.

Over the years, however, when circumstances permit, the CIA has publicly identified Agency officers who have been killed in the line of duty. There are currently 78 stars etched on CIA’s Memorial Wall for Agency employees who have died in the line of duty, and of those, fully 43 have been identified publicly and are included in CIA’s Book of Honor. Of those 43 brave Americans, more than 30 served in the Directorate of Operations, the Agency’s clandestine service. Among the heroes named in the Book of Honor are Richard Welch, the CIA official assassinated in Athens in 1975, and William F. Buckley, the Agency officer who was tortured and died in captivity in Beirut in 1985. When an officer under cover dies in the line of duty and there is no capability or reason to preserve their anonymity their names have been released.

As Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet has said, Johnny Micheal Spann was an American hero, a man who showed passion for his country and his Agency through his selfless courage. The circumstances surrounding his service at the CIA and his tragic death were such that his entire chain of command concurred that his name could be released without compromising security or any current intelligence activities. Moreover, the Spann family strongly supported the decision to publicly acknowledge Mike’s affiliation with the Agency and concurred with the text of our public announcement before it was released.

It also is worth noting that several media organizations published Mr. Spann’s name and affiliation with the Agency before his body had been recovered and death had been confirmed. Others had staked out the Spann family home prior to the Agency’s announcement, which was not made until after the body was recovered.

We may never be able to reveal the name of every CIA officer who dies in the line of duty. We will remain silent when we must but we will honor the names publicly when we can.

Johnny Micheal Spann was a true patriot whose heroic contributions to keeping America safe and free deserve the public’s recognition and gratitude.

(Note: "Micheal" is the correct spelling of Mr. Spann's name)

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 12, 2007 07:56 AM
Last Updated: Jun 17, 2008 01:09 PM