Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 | 6:50 p.m.
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force inspector general has been ordered to investigate the case of former Air Force Academy cadet Eric Thomas, who was expelled in April for actions Thomas said were part of his work as a confidential informant for the academy.
The academy's top general, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, said the academy will also try to eliminate the need for confidential cadet informants, The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported Wednesday.
The announcements came after the newspaper reported that the Air Force employs a system of secret cadet informants to search out misconduct.
The Gazette reported earlier this month that informants are told to deceive classmates, professors and commanders while snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports, despite an honor code that bars cadets from lying. They help the Air Force Office of Special Investigations gather information on drug use, sexual assault and other cadet misconduct, the Gazette said.
The Gazette confirmed the program through interviews with multiple informants, phone and text records, former OSI agents, court filings and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
"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," Johnson said in a statement.
Thomas reacted late Tuesday to Johnson's statement with guarded optimism.
"I hope this isn't just talk, and something will be done," he said. "I hope they can get the truth, and the academy can do the right thing for all cadets."
Last week, the academy defended its use of confidential informants. In a statement, OSI said the informant program is an important and time-proven investigative tool.
Thomas, 24, said he became an informant when he was pressured by OSI agents after he attended an off-campus party raided by police.
OSI ordered him to infiltrate academy cliques by wearing recorders, setting up drug buys, tailing suspected rapists and feeding information to investigators, Thomas said. He said he was regularly directed by agents to break academy rules.
Thomas said he helped get 15 convictions on drug charges and two in sexual assault cases.
He was kicked out of the school six weeks before graduation for misconduct that had been ordered by the OSI, Thomas said. He added that the unit promised to vouch for him, but no one showed up for his disciplinary hearing.
In its initial response, the Air Force Academy questioned Thomas' reliability.
Thomas has appealed his expulsion and wants to be commissioned as an officer. U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota has asked officials to meet with Thomas, who is from that state.