The Air Force cheating scandal that came to light in January has now wiped out the entire senior command of one of the nation’s top nuclear missile bases, in light of allegations that, beyond simply being a matter of integrity, could also mean that a significant portion of America’s nuclear arsenal is in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing.
At a press conference Thursday, the head of the Air Force Global Strike Command, Lt. General Stephen Wilson, said that the 10 officers losing their jobs at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were not directly involved in the Air Force cheating scandal — and that’s the problem.
“They weren’t aware this was going on in any way, shape or form, and I think they should have been,” said Wilson.
At the Air Force nuclear base, airmen in charge of the 150 nuclear missiles there must take proficiency tests to qualify for promotions and to make sure they are up the job of keeping the country’s nuclear arsenal safe.
But in January, an investigation into another scandal, possible drug use by the nuclear airmen — an allegation that would be bad enough on its own — led to revelations that dozens of Air Force servicemen at the base routinely cheated on the tests.
There are, or were, 190 launch officers at the base and 82 are faced with military discipline as part of the cheating scandal, which centered around four junior officers known to others involved in the cheating as “librarians.” Those four officers obtained answers to the proficiency test questions an passed them around via text message. In some cases, those answers contained classified information, which the “librarians” would send over presumably unsecured text messages.
Three of the four so-called librarians were also found to be involved in illegal drug activity.
While nine of the 10 officers who lost their jobs were fired, the Air Force base commander Col. Robert Stanley, at one time a rising star who was about to be promoted to an Air Force general before the scandal hit, handed in his resignation.
“We let the American people down on my watch,” wrote Stanley in his resignation letter, saying that the Air Force nuclear missile program had been “tarnished because of the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man.”
Adam Lowther, of the Air Force Research Institute and author of a report on the scandal, said that cheating scandal did not put anyone in danger.
“While cheating was bad, cheating in the classroom was never going to put the actual weapons at risk,” he said, arguing that pressure to succeed within the Air Force ranks, not negligence, was the cause of the scandal.