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
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
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