Death of CIA spy brings renewed hope for surviving family members
Johnny Micheal Spann, the first U.S. military fatality in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
November 25th, 2011
12:21 PM ET

Death of CIA spy brings renewed hope for surviving family members

By Senior National Security Producer Suzanne Kelly

His death was swift, and came at the hands of a Taliban prisoner who reneged on a pledge to surrender in Afghanistan 10 years ago this month.

Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann was a member of the elite CIA team that spearheaded the U.S. invasion of the country as an answer to the 9/11 attacks. He also became the first U.S. combat casualty in those very early days of the operation.

Hank Crumpton led the CIA effort in the country. It was the beginning of a new era for an intelligence agency not yet fully understanding the profound change that lay ahead and what that change would require of its officers.

In some respects, it was pathfinding and pathbreaking, says Crumpton. Especially given that they were on their own.

Spann was part of a small elite group known as Team Alpha, which dropped into the country south of Mazar-e Sharif. There was no U.S. military presence, and the team of fewer than 10 men were completely dependent on their Afghan allies to keep them alive. They established contact with a larger group within the country and started building the relationships that would pave the way for U.S. special forces to enter a few weeks later.

At just 32 years old, Spann was one of the younger members of Team Alpha. Most of his fellow officers were in their 40s and had decades of experience in high-risk operations around the world. Even so, none of them had been on a mission quite like this before. It was the largest paramilitary operation the CIA had taken on since the Vietnam War. In part because the group was so small, Spann's loss had a big impact.

"It was pretty hard for all of us," said Crumpton. "It also brought a sense of renewed determination and anger, and even more of a sense of retribution required among us, on top of 9/11 of course."

Spann had a wife and three young kids, and as the impact of his death was being processed at home, a group of former officers back at Langley began thinking about their future.

Because the CIA was so small, and didn't typically lose large numbers of people in the line of duty, as the military does, it didn't have the same benefits packages in place that would have helped Spanns family.

"Mike Spann gets killed and everyone looks around and realizes that we just don't have the internal structures to do for Spann's family that the military has," said former head of the CIA General Mike Hayden.

So a group led by former CIA Director Richard Helms began organizing what would become the CIA Officers Memorial Fund. It was December of 2001, just weeks after Spann's death and its mission was to provide educational support for the children of fallen officers.

But with an agency clouded in secrecy by design, letting people know that such a foundation existed proved a challenge. Then, some eight years later, Khost happened.

On December 30, 2009, a group of CIA officers along with a fellow Jordanian Intelligence official were killed by a suicide bomber, a double agent, who had infiltrated their base near the Pakistan border. It was another tragic loss of life and with that single act, 13 more family members were cast into a position of need.

John McLaughlin, who once served as the acting director of the CIA and now serves as chairman of the foundation, says Khost was a turning point. It was the first time people expected the foundation to step up and fill the gap that existed in survivor benefits for families.

"It's hugely significant on a material level and on a psychological level," says McLaughlin. "On a material level, what we're saying to officers is, if you die in the line of duty, you don't have to worry about the education of your children."

Jerry Komisar, a former member of the CIA's clandestine service, and later, director of the crime and narcotics unit, was brought in to the fund as its full time president last year.

The main fundraiser up to that point had been an annual dinner, named in honor of Helms, who has since passed away. But the foundation also set up a website at to solicit donations.

In the 2010 academic year, the fund provided scholarships to 31 students totaling $525,000. This year, it is providing 26 students with financial assistance totaling $512,000.

"We are the only game in town to speak of," says Komisar. "There are a lot more things we'd like to do. We are talking to the agency about where we could plug some of the gaps, where there are shortfalls in death benefits, or treatment of post traumatic stress. If we had enough resources, we could supplement that as well."

Hayden sees it as a critical function for an agency returning to its roots.

"The CIA has not ever looked more like its ancestor the OSS, than it does today," says Hayden, referring to the Office of Strategic Services, which was created during World War II to coordinate intelligence gathering and espionage behind enemy lines. "It is very expeditionary, action-oriented, far forward in harms way."

Today, there are 102 stars commemorating the agency's fallen in the lobby of the original headquarters building. Nearly a quarter of them have been added since 9/11.

"We've already done some calculations," said McLaughlin. "We can look ahead and estimate that we're gonna have to support more than 50 children over the next 17 years."

In part, because of the death of Mike Spann, the agency now has a foundation to help families as more stars fill up the wall.

Filed under: Afghanistan • CIA
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  21. waleed ahmed deraz

    How does some idiot infiltrate the CIA? I heard there would have been more killed except a woman who was in charge of the unit at Khost was running back to get the bomber a birthday cake? Before that the Furlong scandal, where the CIA was joining forces with Robert Pelton Young to bash contractors collecting information around the country – because the Director of Intelligence in Afghanistan (General Flynn) was openly criticizing their ability to do open source intelligence. So they fanned the flames (anonymously) of Pelton-Young;s griping in the press! Trying to create a diversion for the Khost debacle? Note they didn't go as far as criticizing the Joint IED Organization (JIEDDO) who was

    April 24, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  22. waleed ahmed deraz

    hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi

    April 24, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  23. waleed

    hi how are you

    April 24, 2014 at 9:01 pm | Reply
  24. J House

    The saddest part about the CIA monolith is they simply do not learn from their mistakes. Poor procedures cost the lives of another SEVEN CIA officers, including a station chief, because they let a double agent penetrate multiple layers of security without a personal search.
    Did any heads roll for that? No more than those responsible for the surveillance of two hijackers that fly to LA from Bangkok and not watchlisting them, not notifying the FBI at any time and doing nothing to follow up...leading to 9/11.

    December 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Reply
    • waleed ahmed deraz


      April 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  25. J House

    It was a mistake to have too few people, including CIA personnel, on hand to search the prisoners, bind them with cuffs and guard them. They were attacked and overrun because of poor procedure, and Spann lost his life because of it. This was a fluid battlefield situation, so the blame can't be laid on him alone. He gave this nation more than it ever asked of him. God bless him and his family.

    December 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  26. Cassandra Chu

    ... my honest guess is that the CIA hurts more Americans than it helps.

    November 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Reply
    • wedontwantuselessopinions

      guesses are irrelevant. actual factual evidence is the only thing that matters.

      November 28, 2011 at 9:16 am | Reply
  27. Paul Brosseau/from BC Canada

    basically the CIA are international drug and weapons's the American way. there has not been even one day since 1776 that teh US has not been at war

    November 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Reply
    • Fla. Lawyer

      Yeah... That's right. The CIA deal drugs and weapons, the FBI is just a big prostitution ring, and Congress likes to beat people up and take their lunch money.

      December 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  28. JE

    His death doesn't sound so "swift" to me: "According to eyewitness accounts given to the German team, the Taliban fighters launched themselves at Spann, scrabbling at his flesh with their hands, kicking and beating him."

    November 25, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  29. Sammy

    15 out of 19 nine/eleven attackers were from Saudi Arabia. WTF did we invade Iraq?

    November 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Reply
    • al

      some powerful folks wanted to invade Iraq.
      jut hours after 9/11 media was mentioning Saddam as possible organizer

      November 25, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  30. Truth

    Sadly, Mike Spann died because the CIA placed him in a very dangerous situation. They placed him there ostensibly to look for OBL, and he got caught up in bad place and situation, with the Taliban fighting with Northern Alliance soldiers. Actually, at that time, the USA wasn't sure who they were backing in that messy war – we had given money and support to both sides. After Spann was killed in a horrible manner while questioning Taliban prisoners (including American Taliban John Walker Lindh), his CIA partner called in air strikes from a nearby air base, causing many deaths, including other American special forces soldiers. That entire situation was a screw up and a mess, and the USA was culpable for much of it. Let's not revise history unfortunately is the truth.

    November 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
    • Truth

      I ask the reader please not to confuse me with the idiot above who decided to use this username to try to co-opt my info with his mainstream garbage, thank you.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  31. Truth

    The CIA is an inherently evil organization. It is NOT a charity organization, like this organization likes to portray it. The public is ignorant of most of what the CIA does, because they will only believe what their corporate-controlled mainstream media tells them.

    What kinds of activities is the CIA involved in you ask? Well for starters:

    1) trafficing drugs
    2) trafficing weapons (Iran-Contra)
    3) prostituting and trafficing children (research the Franklin Cover-up)
    4) MK-ULTRA (an ADMITTED mind control program involving extreme torture and most often, small children)
    5) assassination of innnocent people
    6) overthrows of gov'ts for resources
    7) False flag terror attacks (9/11, Tonkin incident, etc.)

    Let's stop covering for these people. Although not all of the CIA is like this, the high ranking inner-core is heavily involved. And before anyone here starts naysaying me, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. Thank you.

    November 25, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • doubler

      "False flag terror attacks (9/11"

      You have just undermined any credibility you may have had. Congratulations!

      November 25, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
      • Truth

        And you just proved that you can't think for yourself, congradulations!

        "The school of dumbed-down mainstream thought is in session! 2+2 does not equal 4, but 5! And along with that, 2 tanks of jet fuel can bring down 3 titanic skyscrapers (The 2 main towers along with Building 7, which was never struck by ANYTHING. I guess it just collapsed out of sympathy for the other 2!). Congraduations, "doubler" you passed!"

        November 25, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
      • S.R.

        Congrats, Truth! You misspelled "congratulations" twice! That's got to be a new record, well done.

        November 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Timbre

      Don't forget the "moon landings" which were faked by the CIA at Area 51. And the overthrow of the rulers of Atlantis and subsequent sinking of the continent.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
    • Tiller In Texas

      ""Truth"" your an idiot. Go have another drink.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      You are very right Truth!!!! American people needs to wake up from the nightmare the government and its aparatus are putting them in.... CIA is dirty and is not at all what they say it is.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • WakkaWakka

      Truth, you keep telling all of us to go do all this research when you obvioulsy haven't done any yourself. "Research" doesn't simply mean finding a bunch of conspiracy sites that confirm what you already believe to be true. Find yourself some objective and empirical evidence before you go around telling everybody else to do their research.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
      • Timbre

        Absolutely, you are completely correct!

        November 25, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Tad Pole

      I actually did a fair amount of research on the 9-11 attacks, and see absolutely no credibility in the claims that it was perpetrated by the CIA, or anyone in the US government. Most the cornerstone arguments by the conspiracy camp are easily taken down with a little education. One of my favorites is the part about there being traces of high explosives in the WTC rubble.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  32. M8km2br8km

    It is with sincere hope that Mike Spann's family has healed and been given some measure of closure. I stumbled upon his grave at Arlington National Cemetery in 2002 while searching for another. I had recalled the stories about Mike Spann in the media, but seeing his grave first hand gave me a sudden sense of how real this was. A young man with a wife and family who lost his life in service to his country. What better way to honor his memory than the memorial fund? May God Bless this patriot's family!

    November 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  33. dt

    Stupid responses here seem really inappropriate. The CIA develops informants to achieve their agenda. Some trust has to follow, and that trust can be broken. This is a story about one agency who has people is in harm's way, without the DOD benefits. It is a worthy cause – if you are patriotic.

    November 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  34. SophieCat

    One man's "insurgent" is another man's "freedom-fighter". There's good money in prolonging the problem, and even better money in creating a problem.

    So tell me – how did your federally-contracted war-mongering company's stock do today?

    November 25, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • BTDT

      A lot of folks are gettin' rich off this fiasco. Used to work for one of 'em.

      December 7, 2011 at 5:04 am | Reply
  35. Dirac

    Anyone who goes to Afghanistan, staying alive is not one of their top priorities.

    November 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  36. Kabuli

    How does some idiot infiltrate the CIA? I heard there would have been more killed except a woman who was in charge of the unit at Khost was running back to get the bomber a birthday cake? Before that the Furlong scandal, where the CIA was joining forces with Robert Pelton Young to bash contractors collecting information around the country – because the Director of Intelligence in Afghanistan (General Flynn) was openly criticizing their ability to do open source intelligence. So they fanned the flames (anonymously) of Pelton-Young;s griping in the press! Trying to create a diversion for the Khost debacle? Note they didn't go as far as criticizing the Joint IED Organization (JIEDDO) who was giving Furlong money and also from what I have heard the CIA!

    November 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Reply

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