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34 ICBM launch officers implicated in cheating probe

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C.  Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C. Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C.  Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C. Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C.  Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C. Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C.  Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speak about an investigation involving missile launch officers during a press briefing Jan. 15, 2014, in the Pentagon, Washington D.C. Though the investigation revealed a lack of integrity among a group of Airmen, James and Welsh stressed that it did not shake their confidence in the nuclear force and it remains their number one priority. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

Thirty-four intercontinental ballistic missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., have been implicated in cheating on the ICBM launch officer proficiency test, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Jan. 15.

The revelations emerged during an investigation into alleged illegal drug possession, James said. The officers range in rank from second lieutenants to captains, and the alleged cheating occurred in the August and September timeframe.

James and Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, clearly were disturbed by the allegation as they briefed Pentagon reporters on the matter, but said they are confident the nuclear mission itself was not compromised by the incident.

“This was a failure of some of our Airmen," James said. "It was not a failure of the nuclear mission.” 

Welsh reiterated that confidence. The nuclear mission requires Airmen to meet the highest of standards, the general said, and most of the missileers do. “There’s absolutely no excuse for the breach of integrity."

Air Force Office of Special Investigations officials were examining allegations of illegal drug possession when evidence surfaced that a missile launch officer at the 341st Missile Wing electronically shared the answers to monthly missile launch officer proficiency tests with 16 other officers. Air Force officials subsequently approached the entire missile crew force at Malmstrom, and 17 other officers admitted to at least being aware of material that had been shared.

“We don't yet know how or if each of those officers used that material, but we do know that none of them reported the incident to their leadership,” Welsh said.

“Cheating or tolerating others who cheat runs counter to everything we believe in as a service,” the general added. “People at every level will be held accountable if and where appropriate.”

All 34 officers have been decertified and restricted from missile crew duty. The Air Force has suspended their security clearances, and the investigation continues. Two of the officers involved in the cheating scandal also are implicated in the illegal drug possession case.

“Every missile crew member in our other two missile wings will be questioned about involvement in or knowledge of sharing test material,” Welsh said.

James ordered that all the members of the ICBM force be retested by close of business tomorrow.

“As of an hour ago, 100 people had completed that test -- that's about 20 percent of our missile crew force. Ninety-seven percent of them passed the test, and there were three failures,” Welsh said. “That 97 percent pass rate matches our historical averages.”

Air Force Global Strike Command will conduct a limited nuclear surety inspection focused on operation crew procedures in the near future. James and Welsh will visit all missile bases next week to ensure that airmen have no question about their expectations.

Welsh called the cheating “a violation of that first core principle of ‘integrity first.’”

“Our actions as we move forward will be about making sure that every member of our Air Force understands that we will not accept or allow that type of behavior, that there is nothing more important to the nation than the integrity and the trustworthiness of the people who defend it and that anyone who doesn't understand that should find another line of work,” Welsh said.

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