The United States Air Force reportedly has created a “secret system” of informants at its academy in Colorado Springs to snitch on fellow cadets who break the rules, in an attempt to curb drug abuse and combat sexual assault.
While those who join the Air Force pledge never to lie, cheat or steal, or "tolerate among us anyone who does,” the service allegedly urged informants to deceive classmates, professors and commanders while gathering information to file secret reports aimed at exposing wrongdoing at the Air Force Academy, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports. One self-professed informant, Eric Thomas, 24, told the newspaper he was ordered by the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations to set up drug purchases, follow suspected rapists and to ultimately feed that information back to Air Force brass.
“It was exciting. And it was effective,” Thomas, who said he received no compensation for his alleged informant work, told the paper. “We got 15 convictions of drugs, two convictions of sexual assault. We were making a difference. It was motivating, especially with the sexual assaults. You could see the victims have a sense of peace.”
But Thomas said that when he got into a fight with a perpetrator while trying to stop an alleged sexual assault, OSI officials eventually cut all ties and disavowed knowledge of his actions. He was later kicked out of the academy, the newspaper reported.
“It was like a spy movie,” Thomas, who was expelled in April, a month before graduation, told the paper. “I worked on dozens of cases, did a lot of good, and when it all hit the fan, they didn’t know me anymore.”
The Colorado Springs Gazette, which first reported the development on Sunday, identified four alleged informants, three of whom agreed to speak about their experience with OSI. All four had been told they were the only informant on campus, but they eventually learned of each other. The alleged informants interviewed by The Gazette told the newspaper they suspect the campus of 4,400 cadets to have dozens of informants currently on campus.
The Air Force’s top commander and members of the academy’s civilian oversight board claim to have no knowledge of the OSI program. The Gazette, however, reported that it confirmed the program via phone and text records, OSI agents, court filings and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the Air Force, told FoxNews.com in a statement that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations does use confidential sources to launch or conclude criminal probes.
"The Air Force Office of Special Investigations, as a federal law enforcement agency, is authorized by Air Force policy to operate a Confidential Informant Program Air Force-wide, including at the Air Force Academy," Herritage wrote in a statement. "The program uses people who confidentially provide vital information for initiating or resolving criminal investigations. OSI does not discuss the existence of ongoing or past confidential informant matters, as doing so could damage the integrity of current and future investigations."
The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, according to records obtained by the newspaper, uses “FBI-style tactics” to develop informants, including interrogation for hours without access to an attorney and threats of prosecution in exchange for promises of leniency, the paper reported.
“When finished with informants, OSI takes steps to hide their existence, directing cadets to delete emails and messages, misleading Air Force commanders and Congress, and withholding documents they are required to release under the Freedom of Information Act,” the newspaper reports. “The program also appears to rely disproportionately on minority cadets like Thomas,” who is African-American.
Skip Morgan, a former OSI attorney who headed the law department at the academy, is now representing Thomas.
“Their behavior in [Thomas’] case goes beyond merely disappointing, and borders on despicable,” Morgan wrote in a letter to the superintendent of the academy in April. The superintendent did not reply, the newspaper reported.
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report.