WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, alarmed by a rash of embarrassing disclosures about officers in charge of nuclear missiles, on Thursday ordered two broad reviews of the personnel who handle the military’s most dangerous weapons.
We’re confident in the security of the nuclear arsenal of this country, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters in announcing Hagel’s moves. That said, clearly we’ve got some issues here.
The Air Force this month uncovered an exam cheating scandal involving dozens of officers responsible for launching nuclear-armed missiles.
Leaders said they stumbled upon the cheating on nuclear proficiency tests while conducting a separate investigation into drug abuse at several different bases.
High-ranking nuclear commanders have also been getting into trouble. In December, the Air Force revealed that a two-star general went on a drinking binge during an official visit to Moscow last summer. And a vice admiral who oversaw nuclear forces as the deputy chief of the U.S. Strategic Command was fired in October after authorities said he was caught using counterfeit gambling chips at a casino.
In response, the Pentagon said Hagel would convene a special meeting of nuclear commanders and other officials to examine the health of the culture of the nuclear force and come up with an action plan within 60 days. Hagel will also appoint an independent board to conduct a similar, but separate review.
The guardianship of nuclear arms has been a persistent concern for the Air Force. In 2008, Robert Gates, then the secretary of defense, fired the Air Force’s top general and its civilian leader after a series of gaffes occurred on their watch, including an episode in which a B-52 bomber crew flew across the country without realizing that six cruise missiles on board had been armed with nuclear warheads.