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Nuclear facility cheating investigation widens

DefenseLaw EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeUnrest, Conflicts and WarDefense EquipmentU.S. Department of DefenseManufacturing and Engineering

WASHINGTON -- An Air Force investigation into alleged cheating by crews that handle nuclear missiles has broadened to include roughly twice as many officers as the Pentagon’s initial announcement last week that 34 individuals were under suspicion, two officers said Tuesday.

The Air Force Global Strike Command confirmed that the number of officers under investigation has increased, but it refused to say how many “to protect the integrity of the investigation.”

Lt. Col. John Sheets, a spokesman for Air Force Global Strike Command, said that new cases are all at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where the first 34 were implicated, and involve the same test that prompted the initial investigation.

Sheets said additional officers have been removed from launch duty and that officers not under investigation at the base continue “to perform its mission.”

The two officers who said that several dozen more officers now are under investigation insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the probe.

The Air Force announced Jan. 15 that an officer at Malmstrom had shared answers to a monthly proficiency test by text messages with 16 other officers at the base, and that 17 additional airmen apparently knew about the cheating but failed to report it.

The evidence emerged during a separate drug investigation of two of the officers, but former officers have said cheating in various forms was common on monthly written tests for missile safety, code handling and launch procedures among the nearly 600 officers who are responsible for maintaining and operating the 450 land-based nuclear missiles in the Air Force arsenal.

In response to the revelations, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week ordered a sweeping review of the Pentagon’s entire nuclear weapons force, including Navy missile submarines and bomber crews that also handle nuclear weapons. He also summoned commanders for a face-to-face meeting amid an investigation into cheating and drug use by missile-launch officers.

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david.cloud@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidcloudLAT

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