U.S. News

03.04.14

Spies, Lies, and Rape in the Air Force: An Undercover Agent's Story

Jane Neubauer was just out of basic training when a secretive military unit recruited her for an undercover mission. She claims she was raped on duty. The Air Force isn’t so sure.

On the night of July 26, 2013, Airman First Class Jane Neubauer was on a beach in Biloxi, Mississippi having a few drinks and hanging out with friends when she got a text inviting her to a party. The sun had set, but the gulf coast air was still hot and muggy when she jumped in a car and drove off with a group of suspected drug dealers. They weren’t her friends and it wasn’t her idea of a good time. Neubauer, 23 years old and new to the military, had been recruited by the Air Force’s secretive law enforcement branch, the Office of Special Investigations, to infiltrate a drug ring selling pills out of a local restaurant.   

THE PARTY

It was a short drive from the beach to the party. Neubauer arrived at a little after 10 p.m. There were around 20 people there, but the only person Neubauer knew was the girl she had come with, a waitress. OSI wanted her to ply the waitress with questions about drug sales. With her open Midwestern face and winsome smile, it was easy for her to get into conversations. She knew how to talk to people.

The night started in the kitchen where she played flippy cup and drank beer while the other partiers hung around smoking weed. Bored after a few rounds, she wandered into the living room where she wound up “talking to some dude about Dr. Who for like a half hour,” she says. If it wasn’t for what happened next, Neubauer adds, that nerdy talk about Dr. Who would’ve been the night’s most memorable moment.

Finding the bathroom on the first floor locked, she went to use one upstairs. Thinking she was alone on the second floor, she didn’t lock the door. She was washing up when the door burst open.

“He walked in and I remember saying, get the fuck out,” Neubauer says. She had seen him briefly at the party, and could tell he wasn't in the Air Force, though she'd never met or spoken with him before. “He was tall,” she says, “I had to look up at the ceiling to actually look at his eyes. He had sandy brown hair, short but not like a military cut.” According to Neubauer, the man closed his hand around her throat and told her that he knew who she was and where she lived and that he knew she’d been working as an informant. He called her a snitch. Then, she says, he raped her.

(Read more: Senator Gillibrand's Reaction)

Officially, the Air Force is not disputing Neubauer’s account. But “she is under investigation” for falsifying the report of her sexual assault, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage says. Neubauer, for her part, says that since the rape OSI has placed her under constant investigation for unspecified crimes, and has repeatedly threatened that she could be court martialed.

He called her a snitch. Then, she says, he raped her.

In a Feb. 26 interview with The Daily Beast, Col. Humberto Morales, vice commander of OSI, confirmed that Neubauer had worked as an informant for OSI and that she was currently under investigation. On Feb. 27, Air Force Public Affairs stated that OSI gave Neubauer a verbal order to cease her work as an informant on July 25, 2013, the day before she says that she was raped while working undercover. It was the first time anyone from the Air Force had claimed that Neubauer was dropped from the informant program.

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Jane Neubauer


"STATUS AS A VICTIM"


After receiving the statement that Neubauer had been terminated on July 25, I asked OSI to provide the original documentation that would verify this and explain why OSI had decided to stop working with her.

No documentation was provided but on Friday, February 28 Colonel Morales sent an official statement on behalf of Air Force OSI, that reads in part: “AB Neubauer last met with AFOSI personnel on 25 July 2013, at which time she was instructed to cease operational activities and focus on her training. On 27 July 2013, AB Neubauer reported that she was sexually assaulted the previous evening. In light of the necessary investigative activities, her status as a victim, and after review by local AFOSI commander, AFOSI ended her role as a confidential informant on 7 August 2013.”

Neubauer’s “status as a victim” is what OSI now disputes. Their investigations have focused on the charge that she falsified her account of being raped.

For her part, Neubauer flatly denies OSI’s account. She says that she was told to cease her informant duties only after she was raped when her OSI agents learned what had happened to her. According to Neubauer, on the day that OSI says that they told her to stop her informant work she was texting with her agents as she had daily for months. The messages, Neubauer says, were to update them on her activities trailing the waitress who took her to the party. Her phone, which may still contain the record of these texts, was seized by OSI months ago as part of their investigation.  

After talking with her OSI agents every day for months, after they learned she had been raped they stopped contacting her and stopped answering her calls, Neubauer says.

Twelve days after she says she was assaulted, OSI arrested Neubauer for pot use. Shortly after that she was busted for a DUI with marijuana in her car, failed out of Air Force technical school, and was sent to a mandatory drug treatment program. She is still in the Air Force. For how much longer, she isn’t sure.

I flew to Mississippi on Thursday, Feburary 20th to meet with Neubauer after several months of speaking with her and others involved in her case. We drove along the beach outside of her base to a highway banked by long stretches of shopping developments.

At a Starbucks off the highway, we sat outside and spoke for several hours. In person, Neubauer willingly answered any question I asked, just as she had in all our previous conversations. She also volunteered a large stack of her paperwork covering everything from disciplinary reports to her private health records.  The records she provided show that months before I met with her, Neubauer reported many of the same claims to Air Force officials that she was now making to me.

Though key elements of Neubauer’s version of events, such as her work as an informant for OSI, have been confirmed by the Air Force, there are still unanswered questions about the incidents that she describes.

After being asked several times for comment on this story, the Air Force’s public affairs office at the Pentagon finally provided written answers to a handful of questions about Neubauer’s case on February 27th. The rest could not be answered, according to Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, chief public affairs officer for the secretary of the Air Force, who says, “We are not able to comment on investigative details of ongoing investigations.”

Given the Air Force’s refusal to discuss the particulars her case, this article relies largely on Neubauer’s own account of events.

Her story sheds light on three disturbing trends that the Pentagon would rather keep quiet: a culture of drug abuse among service members, the use of ill-prepared young informants to infiltrate that culture, and a pattern of sexual assaults that lead to retaliation against the victim.

In December 2013, the Colorado Gazette broke a story about OSI recruiting a ring of informants among cadets in the Air Force Academy. The academy scandal, which made national headlines, contained many of the same details as Neubauer’s story: young Airmen still in training recruited to spy on their peers; broken promises made by OSI to entice informants and keep them in the program; OSI encouraging Airmen to ignore Air Force rules if it helped their informant work; and finally, betrayal.

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Jane Neubauer


A BAD REPUTATION


Jane Neubauer grew up in Orland Park, Illinois, a large suburb 20 minutes’ drive from Chicago. She liked her hometown well enough. But she needed a break after graduating high school and going to community college for a year. At 19, she hiked the Appalachian Trail with friends and went to work on a cattle ranch in Texas. A year and a half later, she returned home and worked for her father’s electrical parts distribution business while she studied history at a local college. She dated a Marine who deployed to Iraq. Not long after they broke up, she decided to enlist.

After graduating from basic training in Texas, Neubauer reported to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi in March 2013. Keesler is a training base, the interim step between basic training and being assigned to an operational unit in the regular force. Like all training bases, it’s designed to be a highly controlled environment focused on molding new Airmen to military culture and keeping them out of trouble while they learn the technical skills for their jobs.

Neubauer was stationed at Keesler for weather training, a military field that is the rough equivalent of meteorology. It’s one of the longest and most academically challenging technical programs in the Air Force. After basic training, students attend a math-heavy eight month school and from there report for 15-24 months of on the job training. It’s almost three years before they’re considered fully qualified and assigned to an operational unit.

In April 2013, barely a month after she’d finished basic training and when she’d just begun the rigorous weather course, Neubauer was suddenly yanked out of the carefully controlled track provided for her peers.

While her peers were being mentored by their leaders and learning to trust each other, Neubauer says that she was being taught how to lie and sneak around.

It was her first weekend off base since reporting to Keesler. She had a two-day pass, and was enjoying the feeling of wearing civilian clothes again. But her mood soured, she says, when another airman made an inappropriate sexual comment. That Monday, she told a supervisor what happened and was sent to report the incident to OSI. She walked into OSI’s office hoping to report her harasser and move on with her training. She left the office, she says, as a confidential informant recruited to spy and report on her peers.  

“I’m making a statement about this kid at OSI and at the end they’re like, ‘Hey, how would it sound if you work for us?’ And I was like, cool, that sounds cool. I didn’t know any better,” Neubauer says.

She adds that her OSI agents told her “that if I wanted to go home for a weekend I could go home, that I’d get special accommodations, that it would boost my career.”

Col. Morales, the OSI vice commander, confirms that Neubauer “was a confidential informant for OSI” but he denies that OSI recruits get any preferential treatment. “There are never any promises made” to recruit informants, he says. “All we can tell them is that their cooperation will be communicated to their chain of command” in the event that they get into disciplinary trouble.

While other Airmen focused on adapting to the military culture and passing their courses, Neubauer was leading a double life. Along with her classmates, she marched in formation to the schoolhouse every morning. But she was also having daily conversations with her OSI handlers about which drug rings she should try to infiltrate. 

According to Neubauer, she was sometimes forced to miss weather school because of her OSI work. She says that she was once pulled out of class by her agents and driven to Mississippi state police headquarters to go over planning for a sting operation targeting drugs at an upcoming party. 

In a highly programmed environment—where her peers were being mentored by their leaders and learning to trust each other—Neubauer says that she was being taught how to lie and sneak around.

If Neubauer’s allegations are true, then OSI committed one of the military’s cardinal sins: seeing one of their own in trouble, they left her hanging in the wind.

“From the bat,” Neubauer says, her OSI agents told her to “go ahead and break the rules.” She recalls one night she violated policy by going to the dorm room of a senior airman because he worked at the base hospital and she suspected that he might be dealing pharmaceuticals. When she dropped hints about scoring pills he stopped talking to her.

Neubauer says that her OSI agents told her that it was all right if she got in trouble for drinking or breaking curfew. As long as she didn’t get busted for drugs, they could take care of any problems behind the scenes. They told her, “Receive your punishment, we’ll sweep it up afterwards,” Neuabauer says.

When she was caught drinking while on duty and received a letter of counseling from her superiors, she couldn’t tell them the truth. She says that OSI had asked her to tail a group of suspected drug takers and that she was drinking so she could fit in with people high on Ecstasy as they hopped between bars and casinos.

“The normal guidance is for them to follow the rules,” Col. Morales says, adding that in situations where OSI instructs an informant to violate regulations, they will always inform the Airman’s leadership and explain why it’s necessary.

Nevertheless, Neubauer was developing a bad reputation among her unit leaders. The same people that her officers and sergeants warned her to avoid were the targets that OSI wanted her to spend the most time with.

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Jane Neubauer

HANGING IN THE WIND

The drug trade around Keesler Air Force Base was by no means unique. Drug use has been steadily rising in the military since the wars began in 2001. 

A number of factors have driven the spike in substance abuse: self-medication by soldiers dealing with the strains of constant deployments and the toll of combat; lowered enlistment standards used to meet the recruitment demand during the height of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts; and the explosion in prescription drugs—pain relief prescriptions from military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009. It was meant as a way to treat the massive physical and mental trauma inflicted by the wars. But it led to a growing drug dependency and opioid addiction problem.

According to a 2013 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency, prescription drug abuse is higher in the military than in the civilian population and still rising. The same report states that intentional misuse of prescription drugs by service members grew from 2 percent in 2002 to 11 percent in 2008.

Combatting the illegal drug trade within the Air Force is largely up to OSI. A federal law enforcement agency modeled on the FBI, it operates as an independent investigative authority in the Air Force.

OSI conducts many of its duties covertly with limited oversight from the conventional Air Force units it operates alongside and draws its informants from.

When Neubauer was recruited by OSI she says she signed a statement of agreement laying out the rules for informants and swearing her to secrecy. The Air Force did not provide a copy of Neubauer’s agreement in response to my request to see it, but stated that it “made clear she would only conduct informant activities when specifically directed to do so by OSI Agents.” During the period of her work as an informant, the Air Force says, Neubauer “collected information regarding illegal narcotics activities.”

Regular reporting between OSI agents and Air Force commanders whose troops are being used as informants is essential to ensuring the safety of the Airmen involved, according to Col. Morales.

It is unconfirmed whether Keesler Air Force base’s senior officer, General Patrick Higby, or the training group commander, Col. George Tombe, responsible for Airmen like Neubauer attending technical schools, was ever aware of her role as an informant while it was ongoing. Almost everyone in Neubauer’s chain of command—possibly everyone on Keesler outside of her OSI agents—appears to have only learned about her undercover work months after it began, after she was sexually assaulted and her life began to unravel.

Used responsibly, OSI informants like Neubauer can effectively expose drug use and sexual misconduct in the ranks. But when the program is abused, as Neubauer alleges and as was reported in the Colorado Gazette story about the Air Force Academy, then OSI itself becomes the problem.

If Neubauer’s allegations are true, then OSI committed one of the military’s cardinal sins: seeing one of their own in trouble, they left her hanging in the wind.

At first, Neubauer says, working as an informant was exciting. Despite the extra work and the pressure, she felt like she was serving a purpose by getting rid of drug users and other people who were threats to their fellow Airmen and the service.

Soon after she was recruited by OSI, she says she was brought in to work on criminal cases with the Biloxi police department. She says that in a joint operation with OSI, the police used her as bait to lure drug dealers at a local car show during the summer of 2013, and that she helped set up sting operations at off base hotel parties where drug use was suspected. Eventually, Neubauer says, she was handed off to work with the police without her agents or anyone from OSI present.

Rodney McGilvary, Biloxi’s assistant chief of police, confirmed that his department works regularly with OSI on Keesler Air Force base, saying, “We do that on a daily basis.”

McGilvary also confirmed that the Biloxi police use Airmen working as informants, who have been recruited by OSI but have no investigative background of their own in police operations. “Off and on, sure we do,” he says.

McGilvary could not confirm that Air Force informants received any formal training in safety protocols or undercover work from the police department before working on potentially dangerous criminal cases. When asked if he knew whether OSI had provided any training to its informants, McGilvary says, “I’m not going to make statements for OSI or the Air Force. I’m not their spokesman.”

Col. Morales did not cite any specific training or safety protocols that were required for Air Force informants, saying that instructions and safety precautions communicated between agents and informants were dependent on the particular situation.

Starting in April 2013, Neubauer spent almost three months secretly reporting on her peers. Then her OSI handlers told her that “The Biloxi [police department] wanted me to get in with this restaurant, because this restaurant was pushing drugs a lot on the base,” Neubauer says.

Neubauer says that her OSI agents told her, “Just dirty yourself. Tell them you were a bad person before you joined the Air Force, tell them you miss smoking weed, tell them you miss doing pills.” Neubauer did as she was told, hanging out at the restaurant with the people who seemed dirtiest. It was there, she says, that she met the waitress who texted her at the beach and took her to the party where Neubauer says she was raped.

"LIKE A SISTER"

A police report taken at Biloxi Regional Medical Center in the early hours of July 27, 2013, notes that Neubauer was bruised. She requested a rape kit and spoke with the officer on scene, telling him that she didn’t want the police involved. In his report the officer wrote that he “told her she could sign a stop investigation form. She quickly stated that was what she wanted to do. I provided the form. She signed it. We left the ER.” By signing the form, Neubauer had voluntarily requested that the police stop their investigation into her sexual assault.

Neubauer says that she was numb and disoriented and scared to talk to the police. She believed that she didn’t need the police, she says, that OSI would find her rapist. In the hospital room that night, she says that she just wanted the awful awareness of what had happened to her to be over. The hospital’s victim’s counselor told her that she could always restart the investigation later if she changed her mind, Neubauer says. The police called her Air Force unit to tell them what had happened and that she needed a ride home.     

When Neubauer’s First Sergeant, her senior enlisted leader, picked her up to drive her back to base, she told him about her rape and her work with OSI. It was the first time she spoke about working as a confidential informant with anyone other than her OSI agents.

The day after her rape, Neubauer says, she was trying to get some rest. She still hadn’t slept from the night before. She was lying down on a couch when her phone started going off. Her OSI agents were calling and texting, pleading with her to talk. She ignored them for a few hours before she finally relented and agreed to meet.

When she met her agents, Neubauer says, they were concerned and apologetic. They told her that she was like a sister to them, that they would find the guy who did it.

She says they told her not to worry about doing informant work any more, and that they promised to take care of her. That was the last time she ever spoke to the OSI agents who recruited her, she says—after talking every day for months, her original agents stopped contacting her and stopped answering her calls.

After her assault, Neubauer became severely depressed. She couldn’t sleep or eat. To get a bit of rest she had to leave her own room and go to her sexual assault response coordinator’s office. It became difficult for her to focus.

On August 8, less than two weeks after her alleged rape, Neubauer was arrested by OSI after she was caught smoking pot. “I couldn't get clean,” Neubauer says, “that was my main thing and I wanted to sleep so I went out and smoked.”

Neubauer says that the OSI agents who caught her pressed her to admit that she had been smoking pot prior to being raped. OSI forced her to write an affidavit with the details of her assault. And she learned that they were asking questions of people who had been with her that night. It was at that point, she says, that she began to believe that OSI was preparing to accuse her of falsifying her rape.

Her OSI agents told her that she was like a sister to them, that they would find the guy who did it. That was the last time she ever spoke to them.

The same day she was busted for smoking pot, Neubauer’s rape kit was removed from the Biloxi police department’s evidence room and handed over to OSI investigators. “I’m not saying it's the norm,” McGilvary, the assistant police chief says about turning over the kit. “Did it occur in this case? It did. Each situation dictates how things are handled.” Asked if OSI could have jurisdiction in a rape that occurred off base and involved a civilian assailant McGilvary replied, “The answer to that question could be, maybe.”

Three weeks later, on August 31, Neubauer was picked up for a DUI. Then on September 11, she failed out of weather school. Neubauer says that she had done well in school before she was raped, but that after it happened she missed 86 hours of class for counseling sessions, and that it was her absence that led to being dropped from the course.

Two days after she failed out, she reported to a military substance abuse program in Louisiana. Her Air Force leadership had ordered her to go for a month to treat her drug use but once she got there, feeling like she had made progress and gained some peace of mind, she elected to stay for an extra week.

“Honestly, I felt safe there,” Neubauer says, “I didn’t have to deal with my life back here. I was afraid of what I was coming back to, not only this dude who was out there but also my command.”

FINDING HELP

Before leaving for rehab, Neubauer had contacted Mary Calvert, a well-known photojournalist, who had documented the victims of military sexual assault.  Calvert introduced her to Jennifer Norris, a retired Air Force veteran living in Maine. Norris—who has testified before Congress about the multiple sexual assaults she endured in the Air Force, including one that occurred while she was a trainee at Keesler Air Force base—works as an advocate for assault victims in the military.

In the details of Neubauer’s rape and her subsequent treatment, Norris heard echoes of other cases in which sexual assault victims suffered further harassment by their own units after the initial attacks.

In the past year, even as support for a military sexual assault reform bill has reached an all time high in Congress, reports of assaults are still increasing. From October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2013, there were 5,000 reported sexual assaults, the highest annual total since the Pentagon began keeping records on the problem in 2004.

As bad as the assaults themselves are, they are only part of the problem targeted by reformers. Sometimes the aftermath, which can lead to stigmatization and harassment from peers and leaders, is equally painful for victims.

In 2011, for example, Airman First Class Jessica Nicole Hinves, who is featured in this month’s Vogue magazine, filed a court case along with other military sexual assault victims against former Defense Secretaries Rumsfeld and Gates. In the complaint, there are disturbing portraits not only of assaults but also of the military culture and legal system that can punish victims and prevent justice. After reporting her rapist to her superiors, Hinves believed that the system was working. But a few days before the court martial date, Hinves‘s rapist’s new commander dismissed the prosecution.

Hinves—who volunteers as a victim’s advocate, and lives near Neubauer on base with her husband, an active duty Airman—teamed up with Norris to take on Neubauer’s case. Together, they began pressuring her leaders to do right by the young Airman.

To Norris, the punishments and attention directed at Neubauer were obvious retaliation and an attempt to force her out of the military. “They’re nitpicking her until she either loses it or she does start screwing up,” she says.


TARGET ON HER BACK

On October 20, just days after returning from rehab, Neubauer was summoned to OSI again. At the OSI compound, two male agents fingerprinted her, Neubauer says. She was read her rights and told that she was being investigated for falsifying statements. When she asked for specific charges, she was told that she would have to ask her appointed Air Force legal counsel to find out; Neubauer says that to this day she still has not gotten a clear answer on the charges against her from OSI or her counsel. After being fingerprinted and questioned, Neubauer was released. She left the OSI compound and waited until she was out of view, then she says, “I just fucking bawled.”

After her encounter with OSI Neubauer says she was “straight up suicidal.” She was no longer attending school after failing out and her days were filled with daily trips to counseling sessions at a hospital off base. Back from rehab, in an administrative hold while her leaders decided what to do with her, Neubauer told Norris that she was being subjected to a campaign of harassment from her superiors. She said that she was being singled out and written up for minor infractions, like wearing unauthorized nail polish inside her dorm room.

"Once you have that target on your back it's coming from everywhere. She’s causing them too much work, it's too many problems," Norris says about the alleged retaliation against Neubauer. To Neubauer, there's another factor involved, “No one has ever liked a snitch and that goes for my NCOs” she says, referring to the sergeants in her unit.

Fearing that Neubauer might kill herself, Norris contacted the commanding general of Keesler Air Force Base, Gen. Patrick Higby. The general was out of town, but he was responsive and arranged a meeting between Norris and Col. George Tombe, the Training Group Commander in charge of Airmen like Neubauer. It was a sign that Neubauer’s claims were being taken very seriously.

On December 9, 2013, Norris met with Neubauer, her squadron commander Lt Col. Betsy Ross, Col. Tombe, and others. Her goals, Norris says, were to stop the retaliation and save Neubauer’s career.

Norris opened with what she considered the root of the problem, OSI’s recruitment of Neubauer for dangerous informant work when she was still a young and vulnerable trainee. When Col. Tombe pushed back, Norris says she pulled out a copy of an Air Force Times. On the day of the meeting, the paper’s cover story was again about the Academy scandal. It ran under the headlines “Snitches In the Ranks” and “Academy controversy exposes OSI's army of snitches.”

After she flashed the Air Force Times article, Norris says the conversation moved on to stopping the retaliation against Neubauer and getting her off of administrative hold. When Col. Tombe asked Neubauer what she wanted, she said that she wanted to stay in the Air Force and go back to weather school. Col. Tombe, according to Norris, asked her if she thought they could save Neubauer’s career.

Shortly after the meeting, Neubauer went home to spend Christmas with her family. She never told them about working as an informant or being raped. “I felt like I was lying being happy,” Neubauer says. After a family trip to Disney World, she headed back to Biloxi. “Driving back, the closer we got to Keesler I could feel it like a weight just dropping on me and I instantly got depressed again,” Neubauer says.

On January 6, 2014, with approval from Col. Tombe, and the base commander General Higby, Neubauer restarted weather school with a new class. This was beyond unusual for someone who had already been busted for pot possession and DUI. And the infractions didn’t end with her readmission. She admits to getting in what she describes as minor trouble for failing a room inspection and getting caught with cigarettes at school. Despite the problems, however, she was happy to be back and thought things were going better. Until OSI came back into the picture. 

On Feb 1, 2014 Neubauer was summoned by OSI and forced to provide a handwriting sample. She says that she still doesn’t know what she is being charged with or whether OSI’s investigation is only looking into her statements about her sexual assault or includes multiple counts.

Hinves and Norris, Neubauer’s advocates, believed that her command had been cooperative in Norris' earlier meeting, and had done the right thing by allowing her to restart school. But when they learned that OSI had called Neubauer back in and appeared to be preparing charges against her, they asked for another meeting with the Keesler base commander.

On February 14, Hinves met with Gen. Higby, Keesler’s commanding general. She says that Gen. Higby acknowledged that Neubauer’s special victims’ counsel—an Air Force lawyer appointed to support sexual assault victims—who was not informed when she was called back in by OSI, should have been contacted when she summoned to provide a handwriting sample.

Hinves says she asked the general why OSI couldn’t have found a more senior Airman to act as an informant and he told her that OSI believed that 24 or 25 would be too old to blend in with the drug scene. Neubauer was 23 when she was recruited.

In an increasingly risk-averse military,— the practice of sending young troops out as bait to snare drug dealers stands out like, well, a rookie narc.

According to Hinves, OSI told Gen. Higby that they recruited Neubauer because she was already associating with a bad crowd. But I asked the Air Force to provide a full account of Neubauer’s discipline problems and the only infractions they cited were the pot arrest and DUI, which I had first learned about from Neubauer herself. Those came months after she was recruited by OSI in the immediate aftermath of being raped.

Only days ago, on Friday Feb 28, Neubauer learned of another development. She was leaving an appointment with her mental health counselor when, she says, he told her that he had determined she was unfit for duty and recommended her for a medical review board to decide if she should be discharged from the Air Force. The announcement came a week after I began contacting the Air Force about Neubauer’s case. Neubauer has been meeting with her Air Force appointed psychiatrist for over 6 months. She says that this past Friday was the first time he’d told her that he thought she was unfit and mentioned sending her to a review board.

In an increasingly risk-averse military—where a routine physical fitness test requires the completion of a composite risk management form to be signed by a unit commander—the practice of sending young troops out as bait to snare drug dealers stands out like, well, a rookie narc.

The dangers of having drug abusers working undetected in the Air Force—whether turning wrenches on planes that others will have to fly or analyzing intelligence data that might lead to a drone attack–is real. It may be great enough to warrant techniques like the confidential informant program. But what costs do these protections exact from those involved? And how can those costs be mitigated? If Neubauer’s case proves anything, it’s that those questions remain unanswered.

For now, Neubauer is in the weather course, marching to class along with the other new Airmen. But as she tries to move on from her painful past, her future is worrisome and uncertain. With an OSI investigation still hanging over her, she doesn’t know what will come next, if she’ll be back in class tomorrow or standing before a military court. 

If you have your own story of working as an informant or being sexually assaulted in the military we want to hear about it and can keep the details of your account confidential. Email your story to submissions@thedailybeast.com.