Military Matters

Jan 15, 2014 8:39 PM by Claire Anderson (claire@krtv.com)

Malmstrom nuclear missile officers caught up in cheating scandal

GREAT FALLS - Air Force officers in the nuclear missile force at Malmstrom Air Force Base were found to have cheated on a proficiency test, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Malmstrom is responsible for the maintenance and operation of nuclear missiles; there are 15 missile alert facilities and 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) spread across 13,800-square miles in Montana.

"This was a failure of integrity," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.

Major Laver, a public affairs spokeswoman at Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, which oversees all ICBM bases in the Air Force, told KRTV that the cheating happened at Malmstrom Air Force Base and involved 34 officers.

The cheating was discovered as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged drug activity among officers.

The cheating reportedly happened between August and September 2013.

Sixteen officers were ultimately found to have actually cheated on the monthly proficiency exam while the rest knew the answers had been shared with others and did not report the violation, the Pentagon said.

All of those disciplined in the investigation are no longer certified to conduct nuclear operations. General Mark Welsh, the Air Force Chief of Staff, indicated there are enough officers on hand to securely maintain the nuclear missiles.

He also echoed concern expressed by James about the integrity of the officers overseeing those caught up in the widespread cheating: "We're going to look into this with every means at our disposal."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel "was deeply troubled" to learn of the allegations and "he strongly supports the aggressive steps the Air Force is taking in response to them," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

There are approximately 190 officers overseeing readiness of nuclear weapons systems in Montana, meaning the scandal has touched nearly 20 percent of that force.

All ICBM officers have been ordered to undergo re-testing, affecting more than 600 officers at Malmstrom, at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The re-testing commenced on Wednesday morning.

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