AF Releases Redacted Records on Academy's Cadet Informant Program

After a delay of nearly two years, the Air Force on Monday released 250 pages of records on its use of cadet informants at the Air Force Academy.

But most of the pages released are all but blank, with the Air Force citing concerns over law enforcement secrecy and personal privacy to explain the redactions.

It's the latest chapter in a the saga of one of the Air Force's most secretive programs, which used cadets to spy on their classmates as agents with the Office of Special Investigations worked to root out rapists and drug users at the school.

A series of Gazette investigations showed that the informant program tipped off academy leaders to serious problems in academy's athletic department. That led to a wide-ranging 2012 probe dubbed Operation Gridiron that saw three cadets court-martialed for misconduct while another 14 either resigned or were expelled.

One informant, former cadet Eric Thomas, alleged that the school kicked him out for cooperating with OSI agents.

The documents released Tuesday were part of an Air Force probe into the Thomas case. That probe, results of which were released in February 2014, found that Thomas was rightfully kicked out of the academy for misconduct and also said the school properly used cadet informants in its ranks.

The Gazette requested documents used to support the findings shortly after the report was issued.

Because of redactions, the documents released Monday do little more than confirm existence of the informant program. The Gazette has appealed the Air Force's decision to redact the documents so broadly, saying it goes against Supreme Court rulings and Obama administration policy that promotes disclosure.

Thomas, reached Monday, said the latest twist in his case comes as no surprise. He's been in limbo since The Gazette told his story in 2013.

"It is still the same old same," said Thomas, who was booted from the academy after racking up demerits that he said stemmed from his work as an informant.

Thomas worked for the informant program starting as early as 2010 and was assigned to tail athletes at the school who were suspected of crimes including sexual assault. Along the way, Thomas earned demerits -- a disciplinary measure assessed for regulatory violations. He claims the bulk of the demerits came when he broke rules as part of his informant work with OSI.

At a hearing to determine whether Thomas would be expelled from the school, OSI agents who were expected to testify in his favor never showed up.

A new probe was ordered last year to re-examine the Thomas case.

The Department of Defense Inspector General has worked for a year to investigate Thomas' claims and to probe whether the Air Force Academy properly handled sexual assault cases on the campus, especially among a core group of football players.

That report, which was expected to be complete last summer, hasn't been released.

Thomas said he's counting on the new inspector general's report to clear his name.

"The truth is there but the truth is hard to swallow sometimes," he said.

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