- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) - An Air Force Inspector General report released Thursday defended the use of secret cadet informants at the Air Force Academy and said it’s necessary to ensure that cadets graduate.

The report also sharply criticizes an expelled cadet, Eric Thomas, who it says failed in his mission to help other cadets while working as one of those informants.

The report comes in response to a series of stories in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette in December that revealed how the Air Force employs a system of cadet informants who search out misconduct, wearing wires and using hidden cameras while deceiving their peers, professors and commanders, that some people say violate the cadet honor code where they promise not to lie.

Thomas has been waiting months for the report, hoping it would allow him to continue his Air Force career. He wants to be reinstated so he can graduate and serve as an officer. Thomas said he was shocked by the findings.

“They say I failed my mission,” he said. “As an Air Force cadet our core mission is the people, the people we serve and the people we serve with. We had problems with drugs and sexual assault at the academy. I saw an opportunity to help and I took it. They say I failed my mission because I didn’t just focus on graduating. I don’t think I failed. I think I went above and beyond. Education is part of the mission. But helping people, that is part of the mission, too.”

It is one of two reports released by the Air Force on Thursday. The second assessed whether the process for expelling cadets is fair. The report concluded it is fair, the Gazette reported Friday (http://tinyurl.com/l8bmwuw).

Thomas, who worked for years for the Air Force’s secretive Office of Special Investigations, said he was told to become close with a number of football players suspected of drug use and sexual assault, wired to record conversations and sent on drug buys. His work got him in trouble and he was eventually kicked out for misconduct.

The report said cadets would sometimes be ‘wired-up’ to secretly record conversations, be taught how to look like they were using a drug when they actually weren’t, would secretly meet with one or two agents off the base to discuss new information and would be taught the nuances and law concerning the avoidance of entrapment.

Brig. Gen. Gregory Lengyel, the Commandant of Cadets, who oversees cadet life, told Air Force investigators that there seemed to be inherent conflict between the informant system and the cadet honor code, which prohibits cadets from lying.

While favoring some limited cadet informing, such as identifying who attended an illegal party, he said “I am not in favor of cadets actively, you know, trying to set up a drug buy. I’m not in favor of anything, even for law enforcement generation, I do not support cadets violating the Honor Code.”

Lengyel said drug use and other violations could be policed through other means that don’t rely on deception, such as random drug testing.

Deputy Judge Advocate General Steve Lepper, the Air Force’s No. 2 lawyer, told investigators the honor code sometimes must be broken.

“There might be something else out there that is so important that it would justify a lie,” he said. “The security of our nation is one of those things … the safety of your fellow Airmen is one of those things. I don’t want drug dealers. I don’t want sexual predators to be in my Air Force. And I’m not going to let the honor code be something that people can hide behind,” the report said.

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Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com