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The fourth U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft arrives at the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in this April 24, 2013 file photo released on May 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Daniel Hughes/U.S. Air Force/Handout via Reuters/Files) The fourth U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft arrives at the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in this April 24, 2013 file photo released on May 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Daniel Hughes/U.S. Air Force/Handout via Reuters/Files)  

Secret Air Force Academy program recruited cadets to spy on classmates

A secret program run by the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs recruited cadets to spy on other cadets suspected of drug use, sexual assault and other misconduct, according to a lengthy investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

The recruited cadets were encouraged to lie to their classmates, to secretly collect photographic evidence and to fill out secret reports on their activities, the paper reported.

The paper also found that the Air Force’s secretive Office of Special Investigations then kicked out its confidential informants once they were of no further use, on the grounds that they broke academy rules or violated its strict honor code, which, among other things, prohibits lying.

“You just get used,” 20-year-old Vianca Torres told the Gazette. “OSI gets what they want and kicks you to the curb.”

Torres became a confidential informant after being questioned by OSI as a potential witness to a sexual assault at an off-campus party. She said she was questioned for hours about her past behavior as well as potential misconduct among her friends.

When she resisted snitching, she was told she was a disgrace to her country and her family, she told the Gazette. She eventually admitted to smoking synthetic marijuana two years before.

After informing on her friends for OSI for 10 months, she was kicked out of school because she admitted her previous drug use.

Another cadet interviewed by the Gazette, Eric Thomas, said he was proud of his work, which resulted in 15 convictions for drug use and two for sexual assault. He says he was required to sign nondisclosure forms and threatened with military prison if he ever spoke about the work he did for OSI.

Much of that work reads like a spy novel. Thomas was assigned a “handler” who met with him late at night in parking lots or other remote locations to discuss targets Thomas was supposed to spy on. On one occasion, he told the paper, his handler taught him how to roll a blunt before a drug operation.

But part of Thomas’s work required him to break a number of rules that all cadets must follow, including restrictions on leaving the base at certain hours. After having been caught several times by commanders who didn’t know of his secret work for the OSI, he was expelled a month before graduation.

His OSI handler had promised to attend his expulsion hearing, but he never showed up.

“He was instrumental in drug investigations and sexual assault investigations,” Thomas’s laywer Skip Morgan told the Gazette. “His reward was for OSI to abandon him.”

Air Force commanders and members of the academy’s civilian oversight board told the paper they had no knowledge of the program. OSI was formed in 1948 and is based in Washington, D.C. It operates outside the traditional military chain of command.

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