Inside an OSI Hall of Famer’s war on drug trafficking

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

The Office of Special Investigations has a rich history of crimefighters, but few can match the impact and legacy of retired Special Agent Steve Minger.

Over the course of his 42-year career with OSI, Minger dedicated himself to the war on drugs, leaving a lasting impact on the agency and earning a place as one of the most successful agents in its history.

“From Europe's drug hotspots to the dangerous jungles of South America, SA Minger's tireless pursuit of justice took him on a journey to tackle the drug trade head-on,” said Brig. Gen. Terry Bullard, OSI commander. “His unwavering commitment to the cause and his unparalleled success in the field, and his career of great work across the OSI mission set, set him apart and made him a legend in the world of law enforcement and national security.”

Minger joined the U.S. Air Force in July 1966, as an air policeman. He initially considered leaving the military to pursue his goal of "catching bad guys,” he said, as a police officer after completing his initial enlistment in 1970.

But when faced with the choice to become a beat cop or continue his military service in 1970, Minger opted for the latter. He believed that the Office of Special Investigations offered him the opportunity to expand his experience. And so, he joined OSI and graduated from Basic Investigators Course 71-D, embarking on a career as a Special Agent.

Minger's expertise in criminal investigations was on full display early in his career. According to his Hall of Fame citation, he established himself as a top-notch SA at OSI Detachment 1810, after recruiting key informants to help crack complex cases, such as a theft ring involving security personnel and airmen distributing drugs at Vandenburg Air Force Base, California.

Later, when Minger was transferred to OSI Det. 7024 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, he continued to pursue justice, leading numerous operations aimed at curbing drug trafficking within Air Force installations.

As Minger settled into his role in Europe, he quickly got to work gathering intelligence on the region's drug trade. Through his efforts, he uncovered the source of drug purchases and the methods used to smuggle narcotics.

His work also caught the attention of military leaders, he said, who offered him the opportunity to extend his tour of Germany and take on a leadership role in managing conflicts in the area.

“Between ‘76 and ‘79 I ran a lot of drug cases in Germany very successfully, working with defense counsels to get their clients to talk to us about what they've done, where they've been and who they're involved with,” he said.

Minger's hard work in the war on drugs paid off in a big way in 1978. While assigned to Sembach Air Base in Germany, he helped lead a major drug operation, which resulted in the seizure of 4.4 kilos of hashish and 490 grams of amphetamines and led to the identification of 63 dealers and users.

One of the highlights of Minger's time in Europe was a joint effort with German and Dutch authorities that led to the bust of a ring of five airmen dealing drugs on base. This intelligence was used to apprehend service members as they crossed the Dutch-German border and when they returned to the installation.

In 1979, Minger was transferred to headquarters to oversee the district's support of an operation initiated by military leaders at U.S. Air Force Europe. This resulted in ten successful narcotic suppression operations, leading to the seizure of drugs worth $527,433 and the identification of 236 individuals involved in drug dealing.

In 1983, Minger took on a new role within OSI as the superintendent of planning and training in the Criminal Investigations Directorate.

As the commander's lead instructor, he traveled the world to provide on-site support to OSI units and enhance their proactive investigative approach. In his first year in the position, Minger conducted 18 field trips to jumpstart the OSI's anti-drug efforts around the globe.

His expertise in using human sources, undercover operations and technical surveillance had a significant impact on operations. Using Minger's insight and advice from on-site investigations, the Air Force, in addition to local, state and federal agencies teamed up to crack down on multi-million-dollar cocaine trafficking.

As Minger's military career was winding down, his time with OSI was just beginning. In the early 1980s, Minger made the transition from a military uniform to civilian attire. His dedication to OSI did not change in his new role as a civilian special agent.

Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, Minger was involved in multiple operations in South America, including operations in Panama and Colombia. In 1987, Minger led an OSI operation resulting in the arrest of a civilian maintenance manager for smuggling cocaine on military aircraft.

On the same trip, he obtained a confession from an Air Force noncommissioned officer for the murder of a U.S. Army soldier in Panama.

His work in Panama led to the development of a mission aimed at stopping those who were using Air Force aircraft to smuggle drugs into the U.S. Around this time, Minger coordinated a tri-service counter-smuggling team with Army CIS and Navy NCIS.

The three-year operation seized hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and the arrest of nearly 100 drug couriers. Minger expanded the success of the operation into OSI's worldwide Narcotics and Contraband Smuggling Enforcement program.

In 1989, Minger led a team in an investigation to identify someone selling AWAC flight schedules to the Colombian cocaine cartel. The team successfully identified a U.S. federal law enforcement officer receiving $125,000 for each schedule provided.

During this mission, Minger also assisted U.S. Customs in a successful seizure of four tons of marijuana. U.S. Customs credited OSI for its role in facilitating the seizure.

In 2003, Minger was assigned to the Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Task Force as Director of Investigations and Deputy Special Agent in Charge. Then, as part of President George W. Bush's efforts to fight terrorism, the CITF was tasked with capturing and bringing suspected Al-Qaeda and other international terrorists to justice.

Under Minger's leadership, the CITF oversaw investigations by a team of over 150 special agents, lawyers, and intelligence analysts. During his five-year assignment, CITF agents in Iraq gathered more than 1,500 admissions and confessions from terrorist suspects, resulting in an 84 percent conviction rate in Iraqi civilian courts of law.

In 2008, Minger was reassigned to Region 2 at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, where he served as the Director of Operations and Source Manager. There, according to his OSI Hall of Fame citation, he revitalized the region's source program, leading to a more proactive approach and increased actionable intelligence.

After 47 years of service in the Air Force, the last 42 with OSI, Minger retired in April 2013. He was inducted into the OSI Hall of Fame in 2018 with fellow inductee Martin Pitt.