News & Politics

Are Our Nukes Safe? Air Force Nuclear Officers in the Middle of Yet Another Scandal

This time the people in charge of U.S. nuclear weapons were found cheating on the proficiency exams.

The Air Force has reported that 34 nuclear missile launch officers have been stripped of their certification after being implicated in the largest breach of security in the nuclear force, bringing into question both the safety of classfiied materials and the integrity of the Force itself.

According to the Washington Post’s report published January 15, the officers in question allegedly texted one another the answers to a monthly test meant to sharpen the officers' knowledge of how to operate the missiles. Some have been found to have sent the texts, while others are alleged to have known about the texting, but failed to report it. 

“This is absolutely unacceptable behavior and it is completely contrary to our core values in the Air Force and as everybody here knows, the number one core value for us is integrity,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to reporters. 

The scandal came to light during a routine drug investigation involving 11 Air Force officers across six bases in both the United States and England—two of whom were later found to be linked to the cheating scandal. Eventually, sixteen officers were found to have fudged their knowledge on the monthly proficiency exams, along with those who provided answers and those who refused to report it. There are approximately 190 officers overseeing the country’s nuclear weapons, located in Montana, meaning that the cheating scandal has affected nearly 20% of the force.

This is just the latest controversy involving the people in charge of the U.S.'s potential world-annihilating nuclear arsenal.  It comes just weeks after a top general in charge of all nuclear missiles was fired for going on a drunken bender in Russia. And last fall, a study by the Rand Corporation and reported in Military.com reported an unusually high rate of "burnout" among nuclear officers.

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.