On Wednesday, the Air Force announced that it had suspended and revoked the security clearances for 34 officers who worked in nuclear command after it was discovered that they had cheated on monthly exams evaluating their proficiency in handling the warheads. The officers at Global Strike Command at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana either knew about or took part in texting around the answers.
The Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, said that the incident had not compromised the integrity of the United States' nuclear arsenal, but that it was, in his experience, the largest cheating incident involving missile launch officers that he had yet encountered. Two of those suspended for cheating are being investigated, along with nine other Air Force members, for drug possession.
There are currently about 600 missileers, as they're known, who tend to the stockpile, and there is no room for margin of error. The only acceptable test result is a perfect score. At the same time, nuclear missiles don't get a whole lot of usage, and according to The New York Times, "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."
This is only the latest in a string of lapsed protocol regarding the country's stock of 450 nuclear missiles. Last October, Major General Michael J. Carey was dismissed from the Air Force for going on a two-day bender in Moscow. In 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the Air Force's top general and civilian leader for numerous mishaps involving nuclear weapons.
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