Mechanical equipment is inspected at Malmstrom AFB in Montana
Mechanical equipment is inspected at Malmstrom AFB in Montana // John Turner/USAF

Drug Probe Leads to Cheating Scandal at Air Force Nuclear Missile Base

Thirty-four officers at an Air Force nuclear missile base in Montana are being tied to an ongoing cheating investigation, Air Force officials said Wednesday.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations — while looking into an ongoing illegal drug probe — tied 16 officers to allegedly cheating on a monthly officer proficiency test, after answers were shared via text message, said Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff.

Welsh added that 17 others stepped forward saying they were aware of the sharing, but it is unclear at this point in the investigation if they also cheated on the exam.

The 34 officers involved have been decertified and had their security clearance revoked while the investigation is ongoing.

The scandals is the latest in an increasingly battered nuclear missile force. News of alleged illegal drug use broke last week around the same time that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited one of the three intercontinental ballistic missile bases. Welsh said, referring to the cheating scandal, that he doesn’t know “of any incident” that decertified so many officers at once.

(Read Defense One’s coverage of the nuclear force here)

This is absolutely unacceptable behavior, and it is completely contradictory to our core values,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, noting that she found out about the alleged cheating over the weekend. “…This was a failure of some of our airmen; this was not a failure of a nuclear mission.”

Welsh said the entire nuclear force at the Montana base, totalling approximately 190 crew members, is currently being retested and the retesting will be finished by Thursday night.

The monthly exam tests “standard operations duties,” Welsh said, adding that they believe the cheating took place around August or September. Air Force officials said the investigation does not currently indicate cheating has spread to the other two ICBM bases.