The Associated Press' Robert Burns is reporting that the size of the cheating scandal at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., has doubled from the 34 missile officers initially accused.
The Air Force had launched an investigation to see how wide the cheating scandal might have spread to include the other two Air Force bases where the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile force is located. As recently as last week, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James had said the service had not found evidence that the cheating ring expanded outside the initial 34.
It's unclear what role in the cheating scandal these additional missile officers may have played. Of the first 34, 17 are accused of directly cheating on the monthly proficiency test given to missile officers. The other 17 knew about the cheating, but failed to report it. One of the missile officers texted the correct answers to the test to the rest of the group.
It's also unclear from Burns' report where the additional missileers are stationed. The other nuclear ICBM bases are F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and Minot Air Force Base, N.D. Air Force leaders discovered the cheating ring during an investigation of drug use by two of the missile officers involved in it.
Burns cited an anonymous official within his report in which he says more than 30 more airmen have been connected to the cheating scandal.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a wide ranging investigation into the entire nuclear mission. And then on Friday, he said during a press conference in the Pentagon that he has questions over the ability of the Air Force to oversee the nuclear mission.
“Recent allegations regarding our ICBM force raise legitimate questions about this Department’s stewardship of one of our most sensitive and important missions,” Hagel said.
In November, the chief of Air Force public affairs, Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, wrote an editorial questioning Burns' credibility and over blowing the problems in his reports.
We'll continue to follow this and provide more details as they become available.