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Air Force Rocked By Cheating, Drug Scandal

4:30 PM, Jan 15, 2014   |    comments
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WASHINGTON -- The Air Force says 34 nuclear missile launch officers have been implicated in a cheating scandal and have been stripped of their certification in what is believed to be the largest such breach of integrity in the nuclear force.

Some of the officers apparently texted to each other the answers to a monthly test on their knowledge of how to operate the missiles. Others may have known about it but did not report it.

The cheating was discovered during a drug investigation that involves 11 Air Force officers across six bases in the U.S. and England.

"This was a failure of integrity on the part of some of our airmen," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. "It was not a failure of our nuclear mission."

Of the three missile launch officers involved in the drug scandal, two are at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and one is at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The two at Malmstrom are among those implicated in the cheating scandal.

It's the latest controversy involving the service members who maintain and operate the nation's 450 nuclear missiles.

Last year, the Air Force stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control -- and, if necessary, launch -- nuclear missiles after a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit's launch skills.

Last week the Pentagon disclosed the original drug probe. It provided few other details beyond saying the officers were suspected of possessing "recreational drugs."

The matter is being probed by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

The original disclosure of a drug investigation said the officers alleged to be involved were at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.; Royal Air Force base Lakenheath in England; Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and two bases that operate intercontinental ballistic missiles - F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and Malmstrom.

First word of the investigation came last Thursday moments before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appeared at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming to deliver a pep talk to members of the 90th Missile Wing, which operates 150 ICBMs. Hagel did not mention the drug probe but praised the missile force for its dedication and professionalism.

Last week an Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, said the probe began with an investigation of two officers at Edwards and quickly widened to other bases because of the officers' contacts with others about drug possession

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