American killed in Taliban, al-Qaida riots has local tie

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2001

AP and staff reports

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The Natchez Democrat

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Rioting prisoners killed CIA officer Johnny ”Mike” Spann

at Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, the agency said Wednesday.

He was the first American killed in action inside the country

since U.S. bombing began seven weeks earlier.

Officials recovered his body from a prison compound only after

northern alliance rebels backed by U.S. airstrikes and special

forces quelled an uprising by Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners.

Spann, at the compound to interrogate prisoners, was caught

inside when the riot began and had been missing since Sunday.

The CIA provided few details of the circumstances of his death.

Spann is the former son-in-law of Betty Lou Nettles of Natchez.

&uot;He’s a hero,&uot; Nettles said Wednesday. &uot;He left

his family and his homeland to serve us. We’re proud of him.&uot;

Nettles’ daughter, Katherine, was married to Spann and had

two children together.

Nettles said she hopes people will say &uot;prayers for the

girls and for Mike and the world to resolve this.&uot;

CIA Director George J. Tenet addressed agency employees Wednesday

morning, saying Spann was an American hero and calling on fellow

officers to ”continue the mission that Mike Spann held sacred.”

”And so we will continue our battle against evil with renewed

strength and spirit,” Tenet said, according to a statement provided

by the agency.

The flag outside CIA headquarters in McLean, Va., flew at half-staff.

President Bush said through a spokesman he regretted the death.

”The president understands that this battle began Sept. 11,”

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. ”There may be

more injuries, there may be more deaths, and the president regrets

each and every one.”

Spann was a paramilitary trooper within the CIA’s Directorate

of Operations, the agency’s spy service.

”Quiet, serious and absolutely unflappable, Mike’s stoicism

concealed a dry sense of humor and a heart of gold,” Tenet said.

”His brand of leadership was founded not on words, but on deeds

– deeds performed in conditions of hazard and hardship.”

Spann, 32, leaves a wife, two daughters and an infant son.

Originally from Winfield, Ala., Spann served in the Marine

Corps as an artillery specialist, reaching the rank of captain

before joining the CIA in June 1999.

”He wanted to be in the FBI or CIA. That’s what he always

wanted to do,” said Billy Mack Spann, a distant relative in Alabama.

”He got in the service and went from there.”

”This week has really brought home the war to Winfield,”

said family friend Tracy Estes.

In Washington, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he spoke to

Mike Spann’s wife, Shannon.

”She said that when I saw people, I should tell them her husband

cared about America, cared about the future of America, and cared

about the security of Americans,” Shelby said, fighting back


Four other Americans, all military personnel, have been killed

in connection with the fighting in Afghanistan. All died in accidents

outside the country, two in a helicopter crash in Pakistan.

The CIA has been running covert operations in Afghanistan alongside

the more public military effort. CIA officers are believed to

have been providing weapons, money and intelligence to rebel groups

opposing the Taliban and al-Qaida, as well as interrogating prisoners

captured during the fighting.

The prison riot began Sunday when hundreds of Arabs, Pakistanis

and other non-Afghan prisoners captured after the fall of Kunduz,

the Taliban’s last stronghold in the north, stormed an armory

for weapons.

Thousands of northern alliance fighters, aided by U.S. commandos

and airstrikes, assaulted the compound, but the prisoners held

out for days.

Five U.S. soldiers were seriously wounded Monday when a U.S.

bomb went astray. They were evacuated to a U.S. military hospital

in Germany, where one remained in intensive care and the other

four were in good condition.

The alliance had recaptured most of the fortress prison by

Wednesday. Hundreds of prisoners and dozens of alliance fighters

were dead.

The CIA often keeps the death of one of its own secret, usually

to protect a clandestine operation or the identities of foreign

agents working with the officer. Neither was the case with Spann’s


Two CIA officers died in the line of duty in 1998. No information

has been released about their identities or the circumstances.

Spann became the 79th CIA employee to have died or been killed

in the line of duty. Each has a star on the wall in the lobby

of the agency’s main building.

Slightly more than half of the stars include names. The identities

of the rest are secret.

Some of the better-known include Robert Ames, who died in the

1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, and William Buckley,

who was killed in 1985 after being kidnapped the previous year

in Lebanon.