Air Force Academy defends use of cadet informants

The Air Force Academy stood by its use of confidential student informants Tuesday, noting that it's a practice used across the Air Force that provides what it calls "vital information about criminal activities."

The academy's response was in reaction to a Sunday Gazette report about the system of cadet informants who are instructed to deceive classmates, professors and commanders. The academy on Tuesday also questioned the reliability of cadet informant Eric Thomas, who helped bring the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations to light after he was expelled from the academy, despite being promised protection by his handlers.

"The program uses people who confidentially provide vital information about criminal activities that would not otherwise be available," the academy said in a statement. "AFOSI uses that information to initiate or resolve criminal investigations. This is an Air Force-wide program and is not something unique at the Air Force's Academy."

The Gazette report detailed how the Air Force uses the informant program to go after drug use, sexual assault and other misconduct among cadets. Informants are recruited through long interrogations, then sent to gather evidence, snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports.

Thomas, who was the focus of the article, was expelled after getting in trouble for misconduct he said was directed by OSI.

In its own statement, OSI said "The AFOSI confidential informant program is an important and time-proven investigative tool."

An excerpt from the original story:

Eric Thomas, 24, was a confidential informant for the Office of Special Investigations, or OSI — a law enforcement branch of the Air Force. OSI ordered Thomas to infiltrate academy cliques, wearing recorders, setting up drug buys, tailing suspected rapists and feeding information back to OSI. In pursuit of cases, he was regularly directed by agents to break academy rules.

“It was exciting. And it was effective,” said Thomas, a soccer and football player who received no compensation for his informant work. “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.”

Through it all, he thought OSI would have his back. But when an operation went wrong, he said, his handlers cut communication and disavowed knowledge of his actions, and watched as he was kicked out of the academy.

“It was like a spy movie,” said Thomas, who was expelled in April, a month before graduation. “I worked on dozens of cases, did a lot of good, and when it all hit the fan, they didn’t know me anymore.”

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