Johnny Michael Spann, a covert operations officer, died Sunday serving his country in Afghanistan. The 32-year-old father left behind an infant son, two young daughters and his wife in Manassas. The loss of the committed CIA officer was the first combat death in Afghanistan.
Mr. Spann was killed during an uprising by hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in a fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif where he was gathering intelligence on the Taliban. The uprising was not quelled until Wednesday, when Northern Alliance forces and U.S. jets destroyed the compound. The CIA confirmed Mr. Spann was stomped to death in the riots, the New York Post reported.
The fact that Mr. Spann, an intelligence officer, was the first combat casualty, gives a face and credence to the United States’ less publicized mission to Afghanistan one in which the CIA has a vital role in providing weapons, money and intelligence to opponents of the Taliban and al Qaeda. CIA Director George Tenet has called on CIA personnel to “continue the mission that Mike Spann held sacred.”
Indeed, it was a mission for which Mr. Spann had prepared since high school, when he told family and friends he wanted to be in the CIA or FBI. After serving in the Marine Corps from 1991 to 1999, he joined the CIA as an officer in Langley’s Special Activities Division. When he decided to make the switch, he told his father he wanted to make the world a better place, “to do the things no one else wants to do.”
He was given that opportunity in Afghanistan, where he served as a paramilitary trooper and was one of only two CIA operatives inside the compound when he died. The only son of Johnny and Gail Spann, he was known for his patriotism, courage and humility.
“His brand of leadership was founded not on words, but on deeds deeds performed in conditions of hazard and hardship,” Mr. Tenet said. “Mike fell bringing freedom to a distant people while defending freedom for all of us here at home. Mike Spann was an American hero, a man who showed passion for his country and his agency through his selfless courage.”
For those he has left behind, Mr. Spann helped make the world a better place. He achieved his goal of doing those brave deeds that most Americans would dare not do and given his compatriots a vision to continue that work.