WASHINGTON — Nine officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., were removed from leadership positions and the commander of the 341st Missile Wing has resigned in the wake of a widespread cheating scandal involving nuclear launch officers, the Air Force announced Thursday.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations discovered the cheating on proficiency testing among missileers at Malmstrom while investigating several Air Force officers for alleged drug activity last year, including three launch officers at Malmstrom.
OSI agents found test material on the missileers’ cell phones, and the discovery sparked a new investigation that ultimately implicated about half the roughly 200 launch officers at Malmstrom for sending, receiving, requesting or having knowledge of test material, Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, told reporters at the Pentagon. To date, cheating allegations against 82 missilleers have been substantiated, and nine are unsubstantiated due to lack of credible evidence. The OSI is still investigating nine cases, according to Air Force officials.
The cheating ring involved the sharing of test materials via text and pictures. Forensic analysis of the cell phones showed potential cheating going as far back as November of 2011 and as recently as November of 2013. OSI analysis also found that one of the texts included a photograph of a classified test answer. Of the nine cases that still remain open, eight of those nine are for potential mishandling of classified information, and three of the nine are also under investigation for alleged illegal drug activity, according to Wilson.
“At no time did this compromise of test material ever put the safety or security of the nuclear deterrent force at risk,” Wilson said.
The nine officers removed from leadership positions, ranging in rank from major to colonel, are being reassigned and will be allowed to continue to serve. None were involved in the cheating, according to Wilson. They were fired because they failed to provide proper leadership, oversight and supervision of the missileers, he said. Those removed include:
- The commander and deputy commander of the 341st Operations Group.
- The commanders of the 10th, 12th and 490th Missile Squadrons, and the commander of the 341st Operational Support Squadron.
- The directors of operations from the 341st Operational Support Squadron and the 10th Missile Squadron.
- The 341st Operations Group standardization and evaluation officer.
Col. Robert Stanley, the commander of the 341st Missile Wing, took responsibility for the actions of those under his command and offered his resignation. His resignation was accepted Thursday and Stanley will retire in the coming weeks, Wilson said. Wilson described Stanley as “beloved."
“Col. Stanley has served the nation and the Air Force with great honor and distinction for the past 25 years,” Wilson told reporters.
Stanley has been succeeded by Col. Tom Wilcox, a career nuclear security force officer, who took command Thursday.
The launch officers found to be involved in the cheating scandal, whose ranks range from second lieutenant to captain, will face a spectrum of potential disciplinary action, including letters of a counseling, letters of admonishment, letters of reprimand, or even court martials, according to Wilson.
The malfeasance at Malmstrom raised questions about whether similar cheating has occurred at other bases.
“We found no evidence that it existed outside of Malmstrom,” Wilson said. “If [the investigators] would have found information on a phone that linked to another base, we would have followed that lead. [But] it didn’t lead there.”
James laid special blame on those at Malmstrom who knew about the cheating but didn’t report it to the chain of command.
“If one person had spoken up, this could have been very different. And so that’s why we are really focusing on what integrity means. It means the individual acting with integrity, but it means seeing something in your environment that’s not right, your job is to speak up,” she said.
Despite the scandal, James said she has “great confidence” in the team at Malmstrom and the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise as a whole.