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History

A SACRED PROMISE

WHERE IT BEGAN

Action. Responsibility. Leadership. These are words Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann used to describe himself in his application to the CIA. He took these traits with him when he deployed in the fall of 2001 to Afghanistan as part of the government’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

 

Mike was conducting initial interviews of extremists held in Qali-Jangi fortress at Mazar-e Sharif when hundreds of prisoners revolted and he was attacked. His last act, just before he was killed by those who had supposedly surrendered, was to warn an Agency colleague of the imminent danger, helping his colleague get to safety. Mike was killed on November 25, 2001: The first American killed in combat in Afghanistan.

 

Johnny Micheal Spann’s star was the 79th carved on the Agency’s Memorial Wall and his name appears in the CIA Book of Honor. He received the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion posthumously.

 

Mike was survived by his wife, infant son, and two young daughters.

In late November 2001, immediately after the CIA publicly acknowledged Mike Spann's death, 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 was so clearly necessary. In December 2001, Mr. Smith filed the required documents and officially established 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 all other CIA officers who gave their last full measure in service to the Nation since the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency 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 to all the CIA families who had lost a loved one in the line of duty. And thus, a sacred promise was made to provide educational scholarships to the surviving children of those lost in the line of duty then, and in future generations. From that promise, the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation traces its roots.

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