The Air Force’s Scandal That Won’t Stop Spreading

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James Cliff Owen/AP

Ninety-two members of the nuclear-missile crew are being tied to a growing cheating scandal, Air Force officials said Thursday; that is nearly half of the intercontinental ballistic missile crew at the Montana base in question.

Officials said earlier this month that 34 officers at the Malmstrom Air Force Base were being tied to alleged cheating on a monthly proficiency exam. One officer texted answers to the test to 16 others, and another 17 came forward and said they knew about the test answers being shared.

But with Thursday's update, more than half of the 190 crew members have "some level of involvement," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said, adding that—to her knowledge—the alleged cheating is contained to Malmstrom.

Of the 92 members, the Air Force alleges that 40 cheated, while 52 others were aware of the cheating.

The officers have been temporarily decertified while the investigation is ongoing. Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson said nonsuspended crew members are now "pulling additional alerts," but stressed, "There's been no operational impact."

All officers were retested, with an average test score of approximately 95 percent.

Reports earlier this week suggested that roughly 70 members were being tied to the cheating, but a Pentagon spokesperson wouldn't confirm exact numbers at the time.

James acknowledged that with the new findings, she believes there are "systemic problems" within the nuclear-missile force. One of those problems is the current environment, which she said has created a "need for perfection" that has created unnecessary stress and fear.

"I believe that a very terrible irony in this whole situation is that these missilers didn't cheat to pass, they cheated because they felt driven to get 100 percent," James said. "I think this is not a healthy environment. I think we need to relook at the way we do these tests."

At the direction of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a 60-day review of the nuclear force is underway.

The cheating scandal was originally uncovered during an investigation for alleged illegal-drug use.

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