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CIA Agent First American Casualty on Ground in Afghanistan

Aired November 28, 2001 - 11:46   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Again, we mentioned developing news. A CIA agent, the first American casualty on the ground in Afghanistan. He was known bit name of Mike. Earlier this week, we had been getting reports that some U.S. operatives were in play there near the area of Mazar-e Sharif.

David Ensor now working his sources in Washington with more.

David, what do we have?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, Michael Spann, 32 years old, joining the CIA in 1999. He was a former Marine Corps officer. He was in the Mazar-e Sharif prison area at time of that uprising, was under way there, and a lot of people were killed in that uprising. He was among them the CIA is now confirming.

In a statement, the CIA says that Michael Spann, who was an operations officer at the CIA, is survived by his wife, infant son and two daughters. And obviously, there's a good deal of unhappiness over at Langley today, but pride also in the work that a great number of CIA officers are performing on the ground there in Afghanistan. They are taking considerable risks, and as you can see, they have now lost one of their number in that struggle.

Michael Spann, again, a directorate of operations officer at CIA, age 32, dead in Afghanistan, we are now hearing from the CIA -- Bill.

HEMMER: David, if you can flush out a few more details. You say a number of agents working. Do we know precisely how many in that area?

ENSOR: We do not have precise numbers, and obviously, it's the kind of thing that a normally secretive agency is even more secretive about than usual. It is presumed to be in the hundreds of officers that are of operating in Afghanistan. They are not just in Mazar-e Sharif, obviously. There a great number of them in Kandahar, and that area, where there is a great deal of interest now on the part of the United States in capturing or killing the leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

So CIA has been working on the ground in Afghanistan, since before the troops were there, working to help the troops find the targets. There are even surveillance drones that are run by the CIA now, and a good number of CIA operatives on the ground. Some of them speakers of the local languages, helping U.S. special forces troops in this very complicated and difficult operation that U.S. forces are engaged in Afghanistan as we speak.

HEMMER: David, I guess the other thing we can talk about at this time is the work of the CIA. You mentioned a little bit of the responsibilities and duties. We also noted at the first part of this conflict, they are reaching out to a number of people who had the fluency in certain languages in that part of the world. Are you able to gauge by the folks over at Langley if they have made much progress not only in that area, but other areas where they wanted to shore things up.

ENSOR: In terms of the skills, the CIA has at its disposal.

HEMMER: Yes.

ENSOR: We can certainly say that the number of Americans applying to work at CIA has skyrocketed since September 11th, and we understand from officials there that a number of the applicants do have useful skills, such as languages that will be useful in the future for the agency, either in that part of the world or in other parts, that may be of interest in the coming years. So they are quite pleased by the turnout of applicants for jobs at the CIA. They also say that in recent years, that is in the last four or five years, CIA officials have been able to hire a good number more Americans who speak foreign languages as a mother tongue, so to speak, children of immigrants and so forth.

There are three times as many Arabic speakers, for example, among the CIA employees than there were five years ago. So it's a place that's changing and adapting, and obviously very busy on the ground in Afghanistan.

You know, in the front hallway of the CIA, Bill, there are stars on the wall put up for each CIA officers who has been killed in the line of duty since the agency was founded in the '50s. I forget how many stars there are now. Some of them do not have names next to them. Some of them, the names are still withheld for security reasons. This will be another star, and this one will have the name Michael Spann written next to it.

HEMMER: David Ensor, live in Washington. David, thank you.

Johnny Spann, again he went by the name of Mike, the first U.S. combat casualty on the ground in Afghanistan.

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