American N-missile officers cheated on job tests
THE United States Air Force said on Wednesday that 34 officers responsible for launching the nation's nuclear missiles have been suspended - and their security clearances revoked - for cheating on monthly proficiency tests that assess their knowledge of how to operate the warheads.
Ms Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force, said the officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in North Dakota either knew about or took part in texting answers to the routine monthly tests.
Eleven air-force officers - including two accused in the Malmstrom cheating scandal, as well as one other nuclear-missile officer - have also been the focus of suspicion in an illegal-drug investigation, defence officials said.
Although the air force has been plagued in recent years by scandals, the current revelations are particularly alarming because they involve the US' nuclear arsenal, where errors could be catastrophic.
Defence officials insisted that the nation's nuclear weapons remained safe.
"This is not about the compromise of nuclear weapons," said General Mark Welsh III, the air force's chief of staff.
Defence experts say that the end of the Cold War and the elevation of counter-terrorism in the US military have led to low morale among the men and women, known as missileers, who live and work within a hair trigger of the country's 450 nuclear missiles. The missileers have increasingly come to view their mission as a backwater, with little chance of advancement to the top ranks of the air force.
Mr Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman missile launch-control officer, said missile officers routinely cheated, in part because the air force required them to score 100 per cent in the proficiency tests.