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IG: Academy informant's expulsion not tied to work with OSI

Mar. 20, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
An IG investigation acknowledged former Cadet Eric Thomas' contribution as an informant, but found his expulsion from the academy was unrelated to his informant work.
An IG investigation acknowledged former Cadet Eric Thomas' contribution as an informant, but found his expulsion from the academy was unrelated to his informant work. (Courtesy of Eric Thomas)
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An inspector general inquiry has found that agents with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations acted properly when they used an Air Force Academy cadet as a confidential informant.

Former cadet Eric Thomas had charged he was ordered to break cadet policy while working with investigators and then abandoned when he got into trouble. Thomas was expelled just weeks before he was set to graduate due to the number of demerits he said he racked up in his capacity as an informant.

The inquiry did not dispute Thomas’ role as an informant. He “did a tremendous amount of good in helping solve investigations and then bring those deserving to justice,” it stated.

Thomas received some demerits from his undercover work, the inquiry concluded, but there weren’t enough to make a difference in his expulsion. Thomas’ work “was on his own accord and he did so in the face of severe academic and conduct problems.”

Thomas’ story, which was first reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette in December, exposed the Air Force’s longstanding practice of using airmen to root out crime in the ranks. It also illustrated how problematic it can be to use as informants military academy cadets who have pledged not to lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate anyone who does.

When reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Thomas’ attorney, Skip Morgan, said he was not prepared to speak at length about the inquiry, which had just been provided to him by an Air Force Times reporter.

But, he said, “I am frankly stunned. Stunned and disappointed. Disappointed in both the Air Force and in the OSI and in the process.”

The academy has maintained the former cadet was already at risk for expulsion before his first encounter with OSI in the spring of 2011. Thomas has vehemently disputed that account, saying he first became a source for agents in the fall of 2010 — before the demerits began dangerously accumulating.

While agents acted legally, the inquiry concluded, there was room for improvement. Agents new to the Air Force Academy between 2009 and 2012 were not properly trained on the cadet wing and how it operated, it said. The “lack of training ... put new agents at a decided initial disadvantage when dealing with cadets.”

OSI has already addressed those deficiencies, the inquiry stated.

The report recommended OSI assign more senior agents to the academy and that OSI and academy leadership meet “to discuss all aspects of the use of cadets” as confidential informants. “Our inquiry saw a lack of standardization in the communication between the two organizations and a lack of understanding of some aspects of the [informant’s] role.”

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson announced in December she would personally oversee any use of the informant program “with my long term intent to eliminate the need for cadet Confidential Informants in the cadet wing.”

The report, while acknowledging the controversy surrounding the cadet informant program, also defended it. OSI agents wouldn’t get any information at all from inside the cadet wing without cadet informants, it stated.

Another investigation report released Thursday, this one by the academy into its own disenrollment process, found that the current process for kicking students out of the academy is fair, consistent, timely and transparent.

Johnson in January directed a review of the academy’s disenrollment processes in response to Thomas’ story.

The report focused on the current expulsion system, and the previous one that was in place until July 2013. The panel, made up of the Academy’s inspector general, representatives of the other service academies and the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions & Citizen Development, reviewed 98 total expulsions for timeliness and fairness.

“Both the former and current academic disenrollment process satisfied all expectations for fairness, consistency, timeliness, transparency and due process,” the panel’s report states. “Next, the panel concluded that the conduct/aptitude disenrollments under (the previous policy) met all expectations for fairness.”

The disenrollment process was changed in 2013 to mirror the Air Force’s administrative discharge policy and speed up the system, which the report found was “encumbered by unnecessary procedural steps and arguably excessive due process.”

The publicly released report redacted specific issues with the current system and recommended improvements because it is “internal advice, recommendations and subjective evaluations which are pre-decisional,” the academy said in its release on the report. ■

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