The top general of the Air Force Academy said Wednesday that the use of confidential cadet informants at the academy has ceased for the time being and vowed to oversee "any operations involving cadet confidential informants" in the future.
But many academy graduates and parents are voicing concern that the academy stands by a practice they see as corrosive to the institution's core values of trust and honesty.
On Sunday, The Gazette published an investigation showing the Air Force uses a system of cadet informants to spy on other cadets. The students are instructed to inform on classmates, professors and commanders while helping the Air Force Office of Special Investigations gather information on drug use, sexual assault and other cadet misconduct.
It is unclear how many informants operate among the 4,400 cadets, but informants say their efforts have helped lead to several high-profile convictions and expulsions.
In a letter to graduates Wednesday obtained by The Gazette, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson defended the confidential informant program as "vital" and pledged her personal oversight.
"The CI program has rarely been used at USAFA, and when employed it is deliberate, judicious and limited to felony activity; there are no ongoing operations," she wrote in her letter. "I will exercise oversight of any operations involving cadet confidential informants.
"Many of you have voiced concerns regarding inconsistencies between a CI program and the Cadet Honor Code. I want you to know that the chain of command does not condone lying, cheating or any violation of the Honor Code in support of CI investigations."
Johnson did not respond to repeated requests for an interview this week.
She is scheduled to address the Association of Graduates board of directors about the issue Friday at their office on the academy grounds.
Some parents and graduates say the academy has not addressed the key issues surrounding the secret informant program. In various Internet forums and in conversations with The Gazette, they noted that the academy's statement defending the program Tuesday focused on trying to discredit Eric Thomas, one of the cadets featured by The Gazette.
"They are missing the point," said a parent who did not want to be identified because he feared it could affect his cadet's career. "They went after Thomas but never addressed the merits of the program. They are just trying to kill the messenger."
Thomas was expelled this spring, weeks before graduation, for misconduct he said was incurred in the service of OSI.
The parent said larger issues need to be discussed. "And they have yet to address how it affects the cadet culture."
He said most parents he has spoken to are concerned, and cadets are "deeply dismayed." He added that he was not assured by Johnson's statement that there are no "ongoing operations."
Graduates posting on Internet forums were generally critical of the program.
One local graduate said in a group email, which included several current and former top Air Force commanders, that the academy's response ducked the main controversy.
"Is USAFA, or the OSI at USAFA, asking some cadets to do things that are inherently against the principles of honor and integrity that were ingrained in us when we were at USAFA?" said the email, which was obtained by The Gazette. "We need to know what OSI did or did not do in this case. I believe this is too big to trust to the USAFA leadership."