4 ‘librarians’ at core of Air Force nuke cheating scandal
By Associated Press
March 28, 2014 | 10:53am
WASHINGTON — Investigators dubbed them “the librarians,” four Air Force nuclear missile launch officers at the center of a still-unfolding scandal over cheating on proficiency tests.
“They tended to be at the hub” of illicit exchanges of test information, said Adam Lowther, one of seven investigators who dug into details of cheating that has embarrassed the Air Force and on Thursday brought down virtually the entire operational command of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.
At least 82 missile launch officers face disciplinary action, but it was the four “librarians” who allegedly facilitated the cheating, in part by transmitting test answers via text message. One text included a photo of a classified test answer, according to Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, who announced the probe’s findings Thursday.
Wilson said the four junior officers were at “the crux of it,” and that three of the four also are accused of illegal drug activity. The rest of the accused either participated in cheating or were aware of it but failed to blow the whistle, Wilson said.
Lowther said the investigation team examined evidence from cellphones allegedly used to transmit the offending text messages but was unable to interview the accused because all four obtained legal counsel at the outset of the probe.
In response to the scandal, the Air Force fired nine mid-level commanders at Malmstrom and announced it will pursue a range of disciplinary action against the accused 82, possibly to include courts-martial. A 10th commander, the senior officer at the base, resigned and will retire from the Air Force.
Air Force officials called the discipline unprecedented in the history of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. The Associated Press last year revealed a series of security and other problems in the ICBM force, including a failed safety and security inspection at Malmstrom, where the exam cheating occurred.
Lowther said the investigation team interviewed missile launch officers and others at the Air Force’s two other ICBM bases and found no indication of cheating there.
“Folks clearly crossed the line at Malmstrom,” Lowther said in a telephone interview. He is a faculty member at the Air Force Research Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
The investigators found what Lowther described as “a persistent cultural problem” inside the ICBM force — a perception among the crews “that you don’t want to be there,” in part because of a sense that the mission is not highly valued.
In an emotion-charged resignation letter titled “A Lesson to Remember,” Col. Robert Stanley, who commanded the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, lamented that the reputation of the ICBM mission was now “tarnished because of the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man.”
Stanley, seen as a rising star in the Air Force, had been nominated for promotion to brigadier general just days before the cheating scandal came to light in January. Instead he is retiring, convinced, as he wrote in his farewell letter Thursday, that “we let the American people down on my watch.”
Separately, another of the Air Force’s nuclear missile units — the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. — announced that it had fired the officer overseeing its missile squadrons. It said Col. Donald Holloway, the operations group commander, was sacked “because of a loss of confidence in his ability to lead.”
The 90th Missile Wing offered no further explanation for Holloway’s removal and said it “has nothing to do” with the firings announced by the Air Force in Washington.
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