This Story has been updated with new information.
Jane Neubauer says that she was raped while working as an undercover informant for the Air Force. On March 31, 2014, only weeks after The Daily Beast published her allegations, the Air Force formally accused her of lying about being raped and of using drugs. Now facing criminal charges, Neubauer could be standing before a court-martial by mid-June.
But Neubauer isn’t the only one at risk in this case. The Office of Special Investigations, the shadowy Air Force unit that recruited Neubauer just out of basic training to become an informant, could also be dragged uncomfortably into the spotlight. The office is already taking heavy criticism for its habit of turning ill-prepared troops into undercover agents. Neubauer’s case could make things even worse for the OSI.
OSI’s practice of using new Air Force recruits as informants was a long-kept secret that came under fire recently after being exposed in a series of high-profile cases. First, the Colorado Gazette broke a story in December 2013 about the OSI recruiting cadets in the Air Force Academy to be informants. As in Neubauer’s case, the cadets involved claimed that their OSI agents made false promises and told them that they wouldn’t get in trouble for breaking rules in the course of their informant work. In the end, several cadet informants were expelled from the academy for infractions they said were related to their undercover work. The OSI agents, who had promised to have their back if the work ever landed them in trouble, disappeared at the first sign of it, they say.
The Air Force Inspector General investigated the academy case and absolved the OSI of wrongdoing, saying they had conducted their work with informants properly. A source close to the academy case disputes the inspector general’s findings and says that evidence is being prepared that will prove significant malfeasance from the OSI agents involved. Taken together, the Academy and Neubauer cases illustrate the inherent dangers in making the Air Force’s least experienced members responsible for solving its criminal problems while they’re still trying to figure out the basics of military service.
According to sources familiar with the proceedings, Neubauer’s Article 32 hearing, a preliminary forum to determine if the case should go to court marital, will likely occur before the end of June.
The OSI, the same unit that recruited Neubauer as an informant, and that she accuses of abandoning her after she reported her rape, conducted the investigation that produced the charges against her. One of the OSI’s primary jobs is to conduct this sort of investigation, but in Neubauer’s case it would be impossible to review the facts of her case without also investigating the OSI itself. Not only did Neubauer work closely with the OSI for months, she has also claimed that her agents lied to her on more than one occasion and encouraged her to break Air Force regulations.
And while Neubauer claims that she was raped while working undercover with the knowledge of her OSI agents, the OSI says that she was verbally ordered to stop working as an informant and focus on her training on July 25, 2013, the day before her alleged rape.
At the same time that the OSI was investigating Neubauer for falsifying her claims, she was being offered Air Force resources through her command that are reserved for sexual assault victims. Neubauer meets regularly with a sexual assault counselor and a special victim’s advocate, both of whom she can continue seeing even while she’s being accused of lying about her rape.
Military sexual assault reporting increased by 50% in 2013 according to a new study released by the Pentagon. Date from the Pentagon’s final report was obtained by the Associated press and showed that claims of sexual assault went up from 3,374 in 2012 to 5,061 in 2013. Military officials attribute the rise, to programs that have encouraged more victims to come forward and report their assaults.
The Daily Beast has not yet obtained the total number of sexual assaults reported on Keesler Air Force Base. What has been confirmed by an Air Force spokesperson is that Neubauer is the only Airman on Keesler who has been investigated for falsely claiming a sexual assault since the beginning of 2013.
While she waits for her day in military court, Neubauer continues to attend weather school, the specialty field where she’ll serve if she’s not dishonorably discharged or otherwise forced out of the Air Force. It’s an unusual situation, admits Captain Jennifer Bosco, an Air Force spokesperson.
In response to an inquiry from The Daily Beast, Bosco wrote that “normally Airmen who are under investigation are placed in an administrative hold status.” But, “if the situation warrants they are kept in class to minimize lost training time if they are subsequently cleared,” Bosco added in a nod to the possibility that Neubauer could be exonerated.
Neubauer’s current legal situation is the result of a seven-month investigation by the OSI into her alleged misconduct. Ultimately, the decision to bring Neubauer before an Article 32 hearing was made by an Air Force commanding officer after a review of the OSI’s findings.
Similarly, the Article 32 hearing will present evidence—but now the defense will also makes its case—and conclude with an Air Force commander determining whether it warrants sending Neubauer to a court martial, administering a lesser punishment, or dismissing the case altogether for lack of evidence.
The Air Force likely believes that it has a strong case or it would not be going forward with the Article 32, says Lauren Johnson-Naumann, who served as an Air Force JAG officer for 22 years. Johnson-Naumann, who retired from the military and now practices law as a civilian, described the standard thinking in a case like this: “It’s not necessarily that the prosecution [believes] it can win but the commander only sends it to an Article 32 if they believe there is sufficient evidence that a crime has occurred.”
Regardless of the strength of the evidence, which The Daily Beast has not seen, there are complications in the case.
Along with the 4 charges against Neubauer, there are 15 additional specifications—specific incidences that support the official charge. Though only two of the four charges accuse Neubauer of falsifying her rape, 11 of the 15 specifications allege that she made false statements or convinced other Airmen to make them on her behalf.
A statement from Bosco, a public affairs officer for Neubauer’s unit on Keesler Air Force base in Mississippi, provides the official list of charges: “failure to obey a lawful general regulation (2 specifications), making false official statements (10 specifications), drug use and possession (2 specifications), and solicitation of another to make a false official statement (1 specification).”
The drug charges appear to be the clearest cut, given that Neubauer was busted for pot use last year and ordered by the Air Force to attend a rehabilitation program. It will be more difficult for the Air Force to prove its case that Neubauer lied about being sexually assaulted. According to Johnson-Naumann, the length of the investigation into Neubauer may be partly due to the complexity of the case.
Seven months "is a longish period of time” for this sort of OSI investigation, “but not that unusual given the complexities of the case.” Among the complexities Johnson-Naumann refers to is the “need to get civilian witnesses who may not want to cooperate,” in a case that boils down to proving a negative—that Neubauer was not raped as she claims.
A source familiar with the case tells The Daily Beast that some of the evidence relies on statements from Neubauer’s fellow Airmen. According to the source, some of the testimony being used to indict Neubauer comes from Airmen who originally supported her version of events but may have later reversed their accounts when they were called by the OSI to provide additional statements.
Neuabauer, meanwhile, is still in limbo. Attending class by day and coordinating her defense in her off hours. Soon she’ll have her day in court.
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