In late November 2001, immediately after the CIA acknowledged that one of its officers, Mike Spann, was the first American to die in Afghanistan after 9/11, there was intense public interest in wanting to know about this American hero. Mike’s personal story and the fact that he was survived by his wife and three small children, resulted in a spontaneous outpouring of support from generous citizens from across the country. In addition to heartfelt expressions of sympathy, donations – large and small – began arriving at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The Agency, however, is prohibited from accepting such contributions from the public, so CIA Director George J. Tenet contacted Mr. Jeffrey H. Smith, a senior partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter and former CIA General Counsel, to discuss the challenge of providing support for the families of the Agency’s fallen.
Mr. Smith volunteered to help set up an organization which could provide the support that so clearly was vitally necessary. In December 2001, Mr. Smith filed the necessary documents to establish the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation as a tax-exempt charity under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. A group of former CIA officers led by Richard Helms, former Director of Central Intelligence, agreed to help lead the Foundation to honor Mike Spann’s devotion to his country and that of the other CIA officers who had died in the line of duty before him and those who sadly were certain to follow.
Mr. Helms and Jack Downing, a retired CIA Deputy Director for Operations, created a Board of Directors of former Agency officers to oversee the collection and disbursement of funds — not only for the Spann family but also for all the CIA families who had lost a loved one in the line of duty.
The response from across America was quick and generous. As donations grew, working with the CIA’s Office of Casualty Affairs, the Foundation reached out to the families of officers who died in the line of duty to let them know of the availability of help and to assess needs. Initially the Foundation focused on providing post secondary educational support for the children of fallen officers but soon discovered a need to also offer educational support for the spouses whose partners had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Each year since its inception, the Foundation has aided a growing number of children and spouses of CIA officers who died on active duty.
To date, the Foundation has provided financial support and awarded scholarships to 132 dependents of deceased CIA officers. For the 2018-2019 academic year, the Foundation has granted a total of $1,154,400 to 49 students. What began as a response from the hearts of the American people to the family of CIA officer Micheal Spann has grown into an organization that is a resource to all the men and women of CIA who voluntarily place themselves in harm’s way around the globe. The Foundation serves as a promise to CIA officers that their families will receive our support should a tragedy occur.
Sadly, the requirements for future support for the families of officers who have died in the line of duty continue to grow. Currently there are 124 children and spouses who will be eligible for support over the next 15 years. The Foundation continues to seek donations from a wide variety of sources to meet those requirements. Those wishing to contribute via the Combined Federal Campaign may do so by naming the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation, CFC number 40425, as the desired recipient of a donation.