Discipline in Nuke Cheating Scandal Coming Soon

Two maintainers work on a missile while it sits erect in its capsule. Malmstrom's first flight of Minute-man missiles went on alert Oct. 26, 1962. (U.S. Air Force/courtesy photo)

The U.S. Air Force will soon release the results of an investigation into officers cheating on nuclear proficiency tests, the service's No. 2 civilian said.

Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning said the findings, including possible disciplinary action, are expected to be made public in two weeks -- after Secretary Deborah Lee James returns from a trip overseas and Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the head of Global Strike Command, which oversees the service's nuclear force, finishes his recommendations.

"I expect that we'll be able to talk about that publicly, including the accountability aspect of that, in about two weeks," Fanning said during a breakfast with reporters on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. "That's the expected timeline."

Some 92 launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. -- about half of the missileers on the post and more than initially assumed -- were involved in cheating on a monthly proficiency test, the Air Force announced earlier this year. The cheating probe, led by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, was spurred by a separate investigation of drug possession allegations involving 11 officers at six Air Force bases in the U.S. and Britain.

When asked whether cheating may have occurred at other U.S. installations, including F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and Minot Air Force Base, N.D, Fanning said he was only aware of the incident at Malmstrom.

"I've not seen anything -- we've been briefed all the way through regularly during the investigation -- that has taken it to outside of Malmstrom," he said. "I think it's still focused on Malmstrom."

Fanning later said a command-led investigation was expanded to include the other two bases, but didn't specify whether officials asked airmen there whether or not they cheated.  The Office of Special Investigations review at Malmstrom was comprehensive, he said.

"It was exhaustive in terms of chasing as far back as they could any contact that airmen had with each other," he said. "OSI pursued that to wherever it originated. And the last report I had ... maybe two weeks ago ... the investigation was still contained at Malmstrom."

Fanning declined to say whether Col. Robert Stanley, who was in charge of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom during the cheating, would be punished.

"I cannot say whether or not he will be disciplined," he said.

Fanning did say Wilson has finished assembling findings from the investigation and is "working his way through" the recommendations for the secretary.

James, who is only a few months into the job as the service's top civilian, has previously said the issue has consumed her attention during her brief tenure and vowed to hold individuals involved in the scandal accountable.

"There is going to be accountability in this matter," she said last month. "There certainly will be appropriate accountability for the individuals who participated in the incident. We're also assessing leadership accountability. So there needs to be accountability and there will be."

The incident is the latest setback for the service's nuclear force.

Last year, the Air Force removed more than a dozen officers from similar positions at Minot Air Force Base following inspection failures. In 2008, the service created Global Strike Command to better manage nuclear weapons and personnel after a B-52 mistakenly loaded with nuclear warheads flew across the country.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@monster.com

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