Air Force Academy head vows to end cadet informant system

The superintendent of the Air Force Academy announced late Tuesday that she intended to end a system of confidential cadet informants after the case of a cadet expelled for deliberate misconduct was investigated by a local newspaper.

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

The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported earlier this month that the Air Force Office of Special Operations (OSI) secretly enlists cadet informants to search out misconduct on an undercover basis. One former cadet informant, 24-year-old Eric Thomas, told the paper that he was ordered to to infiltrate academy cliques by wearing recorders, set up drug buys, tail suspected rapists and feed information to investigators. Thomas also said he was regularly directed by agents to break academy rules, despite an honor code that bars cadets from lying.

Thomas said he helped get 15 convictions on drug charges and two in sexual assault cases. However, this past April -- six weeks before he was due to graduate -- he was expelled from the academy for misconduct that he said stemmed from a mission that had been ordered by the OSI. Thomas added that despite the unit's promise to vouch for him and his actions, but no one showed up for his disciplinary hearing. Thomas was under prior orders not to explain his work to anyone at the academy, including his commanding officer.

Following publication of the Gazette's original report December 1, the Air Force issued a statement defending the program and questioning Thomas' reliability. Court documents obtained by the Gazette have shown that the OSI has used informants at the Air Force Academy since at least late 2004, after a series of scandals over drug use and sexual assault.

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In a statement, OSI said the informant program is an important and time-proven investigative tool.

Thomas has appealed his expulsion and wants to be commissioned as an officer. U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has asked officials to meet with Thomas, who is from that state. The Air Force inspector general has been ordered to investigate the case further.

Thomas reacted to Johnson's statement with guarded optimism late Tuesday.

"I hope this isn't just talk, and something will be done," he told the Associated Press. "I hope they can get the truth, and the academy can do the right thing for all cadets."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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