Copyright 2014 The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Thursday the number of nuclear force officers implicated in a proficiency test cheating scandal has grown to 92 out of a force of 500.
James spoke to reporters after touring nuclear bases around the country. The cheating has been found at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The Associated Press has revealed the overall nuclear force suffers from such low morale and burnout that they have committed serious security lapses and other breakdowns.
James, who is new to the job, said the nuclear force is beset by "undue stress and fear," and said the nuclear force suffers "systemic problems."
The Air Force announced recently that initially 17 officers were believed to have been involved in cheating on a monthly proficiency test to ensure they know how to maintain, and launch, nuclear missiles.
The widening cheating scandal has set off a top-level search for solutions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel summoned 15 of his top Air Force, Navy and nuclear mission leaders to the Pentagon, where they worked Wednesday to figure out whether cultural problems within the nuclear force make launch officers feel more compelled to cheat on their proficiency tests.
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the officials spent the bulk of the meeting discussing the breadth of the problems, which include low morale, cheating and serious security lapses, and how to begin solving them.
"I think the general consensus in the room was that we all need to accept the reality that there probably are systemic issues in the personnel growth and development inside the nuclear mission," Kirby told Pentagon reporters after the two-hour meeting with Hagel. "The secretary made it clear at the end of the meeting that he intends to do these on a regular basis."
The cheating scandal is the latest revelation in a growing morass of problems among the men and women who maintain and staff the nation's nuclear missiles.
The number of officers in the nuclear corps who have been implicated in a cheating investigation has now nearly tripled.