US nuclear force cheating scandal widens
Nearly one in five of the US Air Force's nuclear missile officers are now implicated in a widening test cheating scandal, a top official says.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters 92 out of 500 officers were embroiled in the investigation.
They are accused of cheating in monthly proficiency tests, with some staff texting answers while others failed to report the infractions.
Ms James described the nuclear force as suffering from "systemic problems".'Stress and fear'
Officials initially said two weeks ago that 34 officers were implicated at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana. The ranks include captains.
US nuclear programme scandals
- October 2013 - Maj Gen Michael Carey, a two-star general in the 20th Air Force, is sacked after accusations of drunken misconduct
- October 2013 - US Navy Vice-Adm Tim Giardina is removed as deputy head of US Strategic Command and investigated for illegal gambling
- August 2013 - the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base fails a safety test, and its commander is relieved of duty
- May 2013 - The US Air Force temporarily strips 17 officers at Minot base in North Dakota of their nuclear watch authority following a poor grade in a missile launch test.
- October 2007 - The air force relieves several officers of their duties after a B-52 bomber was mistakenly flown across the US loaded with nuclear-armed missiles
Following a tour of nuclear bases around the country, Ms James told reporters on Thursday: "I heard repeatedly from teammates that the need for perfection has created a climate of undue stress and fear."
She reiterated that despite the cheating allegations, the weapons were in safe hands.
"I remain confident - and having gone there to our bases last week, even more confident - in the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the nuclear mission," she said.
Cheating allegations first emerged during investigations into alleged drug use by personnel at other bases.
In the wake of the revelations, the Air Force announced the entire team at the base would be re-tested.
It is the latest scandal to hit the US Air Force and nuclear missile force.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a high-level review of the US nuclear forces last week, saying he was "deeply concerned" about morale and discipline among nuclear officers, while insisting that US nuclear arms were safe.