Air Force Academy superintendent wants overall review
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Air Force Academy superintendent plans a top-to-bottom review of admissions, recruiting, graduation and disenrollment following a Dec. 1 investigation by The Gazette that showed the Air Force operated a system of cadet informants.
Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson's plans were summarized in an email that the chairman of the Association of Graduates, Roger Carleton, sent to graduates Thursday. The email detailed a meeting last week with the association's board and Johnson at the association's headquarters at the academy.
The email, supplied to The Gazette by a number of graduates, contained several pieces of new information about the Air Force Office of Special Investigation's cadet informant program at the academy.
Johnson said the program, which was first made public by The Gazette last week, has been in existence for decades, and has included at least 30 informants since 2002. But research into specifics of the program are "difficult to conduct without full OSI cooperation," the email quotes Johnson saying. She said in order to resolve the situation, "the Air Force needs to be transparent about the activities of the local OSI commander. They need to provide the truth about cadet (confidential informants)."
Johnson did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.
According to the email, the superintendent acknowledged the broad criticism of the program in her meeting with graduates. "Gen. Johnson said up front that she hears and feels the graduate rage. Then she said, 'Please remember that I am a grad too,' " the email said. "The Supt. has told the OSI that she will not defend their program. That's their job."
Johnson is working out her role overseeing the use of cadet informants with Air Force senior leadership, the email said.
The Gazette's reporting focused on former cadet Eric Thomas, who helped with dozens of criminal cases, including two sexual assault convictions, then was expelled six weeks before graduation for misconduct he said was related to his informant work. The Gazette reported that informants were sometimes recruited through long interrogations, then sent to gather evidence, snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports. The Gazette detailed how student informants have sometimes been encouraged to break academy rules by their OSI handlers, then disavowed when they got in trouble.
In the last several days, the academy has made several statements about the informant program. Initially, the academy said Thomas was rightfully expelled and was not officer material, and defended the program as "vital." Then, in her meeting with graduates, Johnson cited two of the convictions in which Thomas was involved as examples of why the program may be worth keeping.
She noted that without cadet informants, "We would likely have had a serial rapist as a lieutenant in our Air Force, and at least one other sexual assault would have probably gone without a conviction," the email said.
Late Tuesday, the academy announced that the Air Force Inspector General will investigate Thomas' case. Also on Tuesday, Johnson said she will review the academy's disenrollment process and that she intends to "eliminate the need for cadet confidential informants in the cadet wing."
According to the email, Johnson told graduates she would look into Thomas' expulsion. Thomas said Thursday he had not been contacted by the Air Force.
In order to resolve the discord created by revelations and improve the climate and culture of the academy, Johnson told graduates she "clearly understands that a review of everything from admissions/recruiting to graduation/disenrollment is necessary."
Also on Thursday, Johnson sent an email directly to graduates, responding to their concerns.
"We do not condone any violation of the Honor Code in support of (confidential informant) operations," she wrote. "The gist of this is trust. Cadets must have trust in their institution and in their fellow cadets. I am working to improve and strengthen our culture of commitment and respect, I will personally oversee any use of the CI program with my long term intent to eliminate the need for cadet Confidential Informants in the cadet wing."
Graduates have generally responded to the revelations of the program with dismay and anger.
"I'm floored by the fact some Superintendents weren't informed of the ongoing CI/OSI programs," Fred Malmstrom, who graduated in 1964 and was an academy professor, said of the email. "Be prepared for the long-term negative consequences."
Matt Lasley, a graduate of the class of 1991, said he was "appalled."
"We've established now that the Air Force is lying to itself. We can no longer trust anyone including ourselves. It makes my skin crawl," he said.