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Nuclear missile officers suspended for cheating

WASHINGTON--The U.S. military has suspended 34 officers in charge of launching nuclear missiles for cheating on a proficiency test, Air Force leaders said Wednesday.

The scandal at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana marked the latest in a series of damaging revelations dogging the country's nuclear force, including a separate probe into illegal drugs that came to light last week.

“There was cheating that took place with respect to this particular test,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told a news conference.

“Some officers did it. Others apparently knew about it, and it appears that they did nothing, or at least not enough, to stop it or to report it.”

She called the cheating “absolutely unacceptable behavior” but insisted that the nuclear weapons had been safe all along.

“And very importantly, I want you to know that this was a failure of some of our airmen. It was not a failure of the nuclear mission,” said James.

Officials said it was the largest scale cheating scandal ever in the nuclear force, as it implicated roughly 20 percent of the Malmstrom base's 190-member launch officer corps.

The Air Force also stripped the officers of their security clearances over the allegations.

The cheating came to light as criminal investigators were looking into alleged illicit drug possession by some officers at Malmstrom and other bases.

Two of the officers implicated in the cheating also are linked to the separate drug case, which involves 11 airmen at six bases, officials said.

The Air Force has come under growing scrutiny over a spate of setbacks linked to the nuclear force, amid persistent reports of low morale among the troops assigned to the mission.

The work is seen by many airmen as a less promising career involving monotonous shifts.

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