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Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Air Force nuclear cheating scandal widens ..... Around 70 officers at Montana base are accused of cheating on, being aware of cheating, on nuclear missile launch test . For perspective , there are 190 missile launch officers at Malmstrom ! How secure are our nuclear weapons anyway ?
Air Force nuclear cheating scandal widens
January 28, 20143:30PM ET
Around 70 officers at Montana base are accused of cheating on, being aware of cheating, on nuclear missile launch test
The number of U.S. Air Force service members implicated in a scandal involving alleged cheating on tests of nuclear missile launch operations has roughly doubled from the 34 initially cited, officials said Tuesday.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the additional 30-plus airmen suspected of being involved in cheating on proficiency tests are alleged to have participated in the cheating directly or were involved indirectly.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information by name while the investigation is ongoing.
The 34 officers had their security clearances suspended and were taken off missile launch duty. It was not clear Tuesday whether the additional people implicated in the investigation since then also were taken off launch duty.
The tests in question are designed to ensure proficiency by launch officers in handling "emergency war orders," which involve the classified processing of orders received through their chain of command to launch a missile. These written tests are in addition to two other types of monthly testing on the missile system and on launch codes.
An Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, said the Air Force would not discuss details of the cheating investigation, including any change in the number of suspects, until the probe is completed.
A "profoundly disappointed" Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service's top civilian official, told a Pentagon news conference last week that the alleged cheating at Malmstrom was discovered during a previously announced probe of drug possession by 11 officers at several Air Force bases, including at least two who also are in the nuclear force and suspected of participating in the cheating ring.
The Air Force's top general, Mark Welsh, said the removal of 34 missile launch officers at one time appeared to be the largest such action in the history of the missile force.
Malmstrom is home to the 341st Missile Wing, which operates, maintains and provides security for 150 nuclear-armed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles — one-third of the entire ICBM force.
The cheating scandal is the latest in a series of Air Force nuclear stumbles, including deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections, breakdowns in training, and evidence that the men and women who operate the missiles from underground command posts are suffering burnout.
In October, the two-star general then in charge of the ICBM force, Michael Carey, was fired for engaging in embarrassing behavior, including drunkenness, while leading a U.S. delegation to a nuclear exercise in Russia. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein.
The number of airmen implicated in a cheating scandal that has rocked the nuclear force in recent weeks has “roughly doubled,” reported the Associated Press via the Great Falls Tribune. However, it’s not clear if the 30-plus additional airmen now included in the probe actually cheated on a nuclear proficiency exam or if they were indirectly involved, such as knowing of the cheating but not reporting it, according to the report. Thirty-four missile launch officers assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., initially were suspended in mid-January after news of the cheating first broke. “The number of officers under investigation has increased as [the Office of Special Investigations] has explored their leads,” Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley told the Daily Report. “However, to protect the integrity of the investigation, specific numbers will not be shared until the investigation is complete.” US Strategic Command boss Adm. Cecil Haney ordered the entire ICBM community to retake the nuclear proficiency exam after the cheating was discovered, but it’s not clear if any of the airmen now implicated in the probe cheated on the retake test. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has since ordered an independent review of the entire nuclear enterprise, has vowed to restore confidence in the military’s nuclear mission. (See also A Systemic Problem?)
Thirty-four missile launch officers assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., were involved in a cheating incident during a nuclear proficiency test, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said. —June L. Kim
Jan. 16, 2014: Thirty-four missile launch officers assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., were involved in a cheating incident during a nuclear proficiency test, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced during a Jan. 15 Pentagon briefing. All the officers involved—ranked second lieutenant through captain—have had their nuclear certifications stripped, their security clearances suspended, and are now restricted from missile crew duty, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh during the same briefing. In August, the same wing, which oversees 150 of the nation's 450 Minuteman III ICBMs,received an unsatisfactory rating on another nuclear surety inspection, after having made “tactical-level errors during one of several exercises conducted during the inspection.” The cheating scandal came to light as officials with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations looked into a recent illegal drug case against 11 Air Force officers spanning six bases in the US and England. A missile launch officer at the 341st MW allegedly sent the answers to a nuclear proficiency test via text messages to 16 other missile launch officers last fall, said Welsh. “Some officers [cheated], others apparently knew about it, and ... did nothing, or ... not enough to stop it, or to report it,” said James. “This is absolutely unacceptable behavior.” After the cheating was discovered, US Strategic Command boss Adm. Cecil Haney ordered the entire ICBM force to take another nuclear proficiency test by close of business Jan. 16, said James. There are roughly 190 missile launch officers at Malmstrom, according to Welsh, and as far as he knows, this is the largest known cheating incident in the missile community, he said. The nuclear community has come under fire following several embarrassing incidents over the last year. In April, the Air Force sidelined 19 launch control officers at the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., after they received a poor, yet passing grade, in missile crew operations. Within a few months, most of the 19 officers were able to return to duty after completing recertification training. Also in April, a crew member at Minot was found “derelict in his duties” after leaving the silo blast door open for a food delivery while the second crew member was on authorized sleep. A month later, a maintenance team at Malmstrom was allowed into the launch control center while a crew member was sleeping. In addition, the crew’s commander ordered the deputy to lie about the incident, reported CNN. And, in November an unpublished RAND study, reported by the Associated Press, found that members of the nuclear missile force have a low job satisfaction and often feel job-related “burnout.”
Despite being “profoundly disappointed in the airmen ... involved,” James maintains she has “great confidence in the security and the effectiveness” of the ICBM force because the nuclear mission “is full of checks and balances,” she said. The officers were found cheating on just one of their multiple tests, she said, and “though this is serious, [it] does not make or break an entire system.”
“This was a failure of some of our airmen; it was not a failure of the nuclear mission,” she added. James, Welsh, and Haney are slated to make a trip out to F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom, and Minot next week to emphasize the importance of the nuclear mission.