WASHINGTON – The cheating scandal inside the Air Force’s nuclear missile corps is expanding, with the number of service members implicated by investigators now roughly double the 34 reported just a week ago, 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 Air Force announced on Jan. 15 that while it was investigating possible criminal drug use by some airmen, it discovered that one missile officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., had shared test questions with 16 other officers. It said 17 others admitted to knowing about this cheating but did not report it.
The 34 officers had their security clearances suspended and they were taken off missile launch duty. The Air Force did not respond to questions by The Associated Press on Tuesday about whether the additional people implicated in the investigation have also been taken off launch duty.
The Air Force has 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, on alert at all times, with a contingent of about 500 launch control officers, some number of which are unavailable on any given day due to illness or other reasons. So the number temporarily unavailable for duty because of the cheating scandal is substantial – about 14 percent of the total if the number of those who have been decertified is now double the original 34.
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.
The drug and cheating probes are being handled by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
A profoundly disappointed Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service’s top civilian official, told a 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.