Gazette: Air Force Will Investigate Spy Program at Academy

Former Air Force Cadet Eric Thomas walks through the cadet dorms Tuesday, May 28, 2013, the day before the Class of 2013 graduates at the Air Force Academy. Thomas, who was a confidential imformant and critical to several convictions, was kicked out of the academy in March, less than months short of graduating.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Former Air Force Cadet Eric Thomas walks through the cadet dorms Tuesday, May 28, 2013, the day before the Class of 2013 graduates at the Air Force Academy. Thomas, who was a confidential imformant and critical to several convictions, was kicked out of the academy in March, less than months short of graduating. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

When The Gazette of Colorado Springs published its startling investigative report that the secretive U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, or OSI, was coercively recruiting Air Force Academy cadets to spy and inform on their fellow cadets, the official reaction had ranged from prior refusal to comment, to professed ignorance of the program, to denying that using informants was anything out of the ordinary.

That reaction has evolved, the newspaper reported last Wednesday.

The Gazette’s Dave Philipps, who wrote the original investigative story, reported that the academy’s top general had announced that the Air Force Inspector General would launch an inquiry into one of the findings, that a cadet informant had been booted from the elite military institution for following what he said were instructions from OSI.

In a statement, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson also said, “As we work to improve and strengthen our culture of commitment and respect, I personally will oversee any use of the (confidential informant) program with my long term intent to eliminate the need for cadet confidential informants.”

Johnson said she had also ordered an executive review of the academy’s “disenrollment” process by which some of the cadet informants had been cashiered.

The Gazette’s Dec. 1 report showed how cadets were recruited to be informants through extensive interrogation, then told to break academy rules while serving as informants, and, in some cases, were disavowed when they faced discipline for breaking those rules. The newspaper reported that the OSI program operated without the knowledge some of the academy’s top officers.

The Air Force Inspector General will investigate the case of former cadet Eric Thomas, who was at the center of The Gazette’s story, who was expelled in April for actions he said were part of his work as a confidential informant. Academy graduates have expressed dismay at learning of the program, Philipps wrote, saying it is incongruous with the trust and integrity needed to form good leaders.

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