November 25 2020 — Currently, there are 135 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall: 91 are unclassified. Who are those men and (at least 11) women? When did they die? Why are they honoured by a star? Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
RELATED POST: The CIA Book of Honor — Star 78 : Tucker Gougelmann
RELATED POST: The CIA Book of Honor — Star 80 : Helge Philipp Boes
RELATED POST: The CIA Book of Honor — Star 81 : Gregg Wenzel
RELATED POST: The CIA Book of Honor — Star 114 : James “Pete” McCarthy
RELATED POST: The CIA Book of Honor — Star 117 : Charles Mayer (1968)
UPDATE (November 25 2021) — Prior to September 11 2001, 78 stars were chiseled into the CIA marble Memorial wall. Today, the number of stars has grown to 137.
Mike Spann of CIA’s ALPHA Team was killed on 25 November 2001 while fighting in an uprising at Qali-Jangi prison in Mazar-e-Sharif.
He was the first American to be killed by the enemy in Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Today, his father finds it very difficult to understand why the US left Afghanistan and turned it over to the Taliban.
“All these people died, gave their lives to keep America free because we were taking the fight to the enemy. We were taking it to their land rather than fighting it here on American soil.
Are we so naïve that we think now that those people don’t hate us anymore? Do we think Afghanistan is not going to be covered up with Al-Qaeda and all the people that say death to America?
Within three months, we had liberated Afghanistan, we had defeated the Taliban, we ran Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan. And then we started making bad decisions again. If you break it, you’ve got to fix it. Well, we didn’t fix it, we left.
Fast forward to today and the last two weeks… We started pulling our generals, our support away from Afghanistan to let the Taliban have free reign.
Is it a slap in the face to all those who have died? Yes, it’s a slap in the face to all Americans, to all the, to all the servicemen.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything. What would have been wrong with getting all the folks out?
What about getting visas for all those who helped the U.S.? To get them out before we let the Taliban take it back over?”
One day, someone will have to answer these questions…
END of UPDATE
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A special page “CIA Book of Honor” has been created. This will allow you to find easily the references to the stars we have already written about. I will try to keep this page up to date.
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In 1974, the CIA dedicated the Memorial Wall with 31 stars in 1974 to honor those who had fallen since the Agency’s founding in 1947.
On June 8 2001, the CIA formally commemorated the 78th star on its Memorial Wall, honoring former Agency officer Tucker Gougelmann, who died in Vietnam in the summer of 1976 after 11 months of torture.
Since the attacks of September 11 2001, 51 stars have been added to the Book of Honor and the Memorial Wall.
Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann (March 1, 1969 – November 25, 2001) was a paramilitary operations officer in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division (renamed Special Activities Center in 2016).
Spann joined CIA in 1999 as a paramilitary officer. He deployed to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.
Spann was the first American killed in combat during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He died at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress in a Taliban prisoner uprising.
Spann’s star was the 79th carved on the Agency’s Memorial Wall and his name appears in the CIA Book of Honor. (Annual ceremony May 31 2002)
On April 18 2019, CIA Director Gina Haspel visited Auburn University in Alabama, where she delivered remarks and participated in a Q&A moderated by retired Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, Auburn’s chief operating officer and former DIA director.
During her short talk, Haspel spoke about Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann.
Before I close, I’d like to share the story of one of those heroes—someone with a special connection to Auburn.
Nearly 20 years ago, we had an officer who was on assignment in Afghanistan. He had deployed there in the fall of 2001 as part of our government’s immediate response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th. His name was Johnny Micheal Spann, and he was an Auburn Tiger, Class of 1992.
Mike was born and raised in Winfield, Alabama. A natural athlete, he played wide receiver and running back for the Winfield High Pirates.
As a child, he dreamed of becoming a soldier—his bedroom walls were covered with Marine recruitment posters. He joined the Marines as a student at Auburn, where he graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice, and during his military service rose to the rank of Captain.
Mike came to us as a paramilitary officer after eight years of military service.
In his application to CIA he used the words “action, responsibility, and leadership” to describe himself. And he embodied these traits when he deployed to the arid plateaus of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.
On November 25th of that year, Mike was in an ancient Afghan fortress where Taliban prisoners were being held and questioned. These captives had supposedly capitulated to US troops, but their pledge of surrender was a ruse.
Mike was interviewing a group of them when hundreds of prisoners suddenly revolted. Immediately before he was attacked and killed in the uprising, Mike was able to warn an Agency colleague of the imminent danger, allowing that officer to get to safety.
After hearing of Mike’s death, former Director of CIA George Tenet said the following:
“He led one of our teams into Afghanistan. There, he tracked the authors and allies of terror. There, while fighting for the future of the American people, he fought to bring a better future to the Afghan people. And it was there, one evening, that he said he would gladly risk his life if he could help make the world a safer place for his wife and children.”
Mike was the first American to die in the line of duty in Afghanistan.
He demonstrated the highest standards of duty and sacrifice at the forefront of our fight against terrorism. In his short time in Afghanistan, Mike’s actions played a pivotal role in our battle against the Taliban and al-Qa‘ida in the region.
His story is a poignant reminder of the unwavering commitment of all our men and women serving on the front lines.
Note: “Micheal” is the correct spelling of Mr. Spann’s name.
KING of SPADES (November 29 2019)
Jake Spann and his sisters were the first American kids to lose a parent in Afghanistan.
Jake just turned 18, but he has never stopped wondering about his father. The Washington Post has published a really nice piece on his story.
However, a detail caught my attention and I suspect the Post has the wrong explanation… Allow me to explain.
“All the headstones sat unadorned, except his father’s, No. 2359. A dozen gray and beige pebbles sat on top. A blue-and-white 9/11 Memorial & Museum 5K run/walk medallion hung off the side. Four U.S. flags were stuck in the grass next to a wilted bouquet of flowers. What was a king-of-spades playing card doing there?”
“Jake took a photo of the card and the stones and texted it to his grandfather, but he didn’t know who had placed the items there. Then he texted the CIA officer he had dined with the previous night. The officer said he thought the king of spades was placed there because of his long sword.”
That may be true, but I suspect there is more to it. For instance, in cartomancy, King of Spades people are sometimes described as individuals capable of shouldering tremendous responsibility. “But all too often the load is a crown too heavy to bear. They have the option, through self-discipline, inner strength and effort, to achieve great success far and away from a mundane and simple life, if they so choose.”
Wisdom of Crowds — Do you know why someone placed a King of Spades on Spann’s grave? Do you have an opinion? Let us know!
Statistics by cause since 9/11
Killed in combat :: 79 – 82 – 83 – 86 = (4)
Training exercise :: 80 = (1)
Travel accidents :: 81 – 87 – 114 – 115 – 116 – 117 – 118 – 119 – 120 – 130 – 131 = (11)
Other accidents :: 84 (electrocuted) – 85 (electrocuted) = (2)
Classified :: 121 = (1)
These statistics only include the list of stars I have discussed so far.
July 1974 — The Memorial Wall is created; 31 stars chiseled into the marble.
1987 — First Memorial Ceremony is held with Deputy Director Robert M. Gates presiding; number of stars on the wall has grown to 50.
1997 — 70 stars, 29 of which had names
2002 — 79 stars
2004 — 83 stars
2009 — 90 stars
2013 — 107 stars
2014 — 111 stars
May 2015 — 113 stars
May 23 2016 — 117 stars
May 2017 — 8 new stars; 125 stars chiseled into the wall
May 2018 — 4 new stars; 129 stars
May 2019 — 4 new stars; 133 stars
2020 — No ceremony(?) — 2 new stars (135)
2021 — 2 new stars (137)
Johnny Micheal Spann — Wikipedia
Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Johnny Micheal Spann — CIA website
DCIA Haspel Visits Auburn University — CIA Website
The CIA Book of Honor — Star 79 : Johnny Micheal Spann
The CIA Book of Honor — Star 79 : Johnny Micheal Spann (March 1, 1969 – November 25, 2001) [Update — King of Spades]
20 Years Ago — The CIA Book of Honor — Star 79 : Johnny Micheal Spann (March 1, 1969 – November 25, 2001) [First CIA STAR Post 9/11]