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.,
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