U.S. nuclear weapons: Military nuke officers beset by recent scandals

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(CNN) — Dozens of Air Force officers entrusted with maintaining U.S. nuclear missiles are now accused of cheating or turning a blind eye to cheating on a competency test.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The scandal involving 34 Air Force officers at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana marks the latest trouble for U.S. nuclear forces plagued by problems over the past year.

Here’s a look at other recent cases:

October 2013

A U.S. general who oversaw nuclear weapons was relieved of his duties after he boozed, fraternized with “hot women” and disrespected his hosts during an official visit to Russia, Air Force officials said.

Maj. Gen. Michael Carey led the 20th Air Force responsible for three nuclear wings.

According to an Air Force Inspector General report, Carey bragged loudly about his position as commander of a nuclear force during layover in Switzerland, saying he “saves the world from war every day.”

While in Russia, Carey and an unidentified man walked to a nearby hotel to meet “two foreign national women.” He returned to his Marriott hotel room in the wee hours of the morning. As a result, Carey was 45 minutes late in joining a delegation in a Moscow suburb, according to the report. He attributed the tardiness to jet lag, and said his body clock was out of whack.

In addition, Carey announced he’d “met two hot women the night before,” and continually interrupted a monastery guide during a tour, his speech slurred the entire time, the report said.

During dinner at a Mexican restaurant, he drank more alcohol and wanted to perform with the live band, which wanted no part of it, the report said. He later left his delegation and joined the two women he’d met the night before at a different table.

There was no indication Carey’s behavior compromised sensitive nuclear information or went beyond drinking, dancing and fraternizing with the women, officials said.

CNN’s repeated attempts to reach Carey were unsuccessful.

October 2013

Days before Carey was relieved of his duties, another military officer with high-level responsibility for the country’s nuclear arsenal lost his job.

Vice Adm. Tim Giardina was formally relieved of his duties as deputy chief of U.S. Strategic Command, according to Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s chief of information.

Giardina oversaw nuclear weapons forces. A military official said his demotion was connected to allegations that he used counterfeit gambling chips at an Iowa casino.

He was demoted to rear admiral and transferred to a job in Washington.

August 2013

The same missile unit at Malmstrom linked to the test cheating scandal failed a safety and security inspection “after making tactical-level errors — not related to command and control of nuclear weapons,” the Air Force Global Strike Command said.

The 341st Missile Wing operates about 150 of the 450 Minuteman III nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles in the U.S. force, according to an Air Force statement.

A failed inspection does not mean that the safety of the nation’s nuclear arsenal is at risk, AFGSC Commander Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski said in August.

“These inspections are designed to be tough to pass,” he said. “Commanders use these inspections to continually improve our training and procedures.”

April 2013

In an unprecedented move, an Air Force commander stripped 17 of his officers of their authority to control and launch nuclear missiles.

The officers, based in Minot, North Dakota, did poorly in an inspection. They were ordered to undergo 60 to 90 days of intensive refresher training on how to do their jobs.

Lt. Col. Jay Folds announced the action in an April e-mail to his unit.

“Did you know that we, as an operations group, have fallen — and its it time to stand ourselves back up?” Folds wrote.

Folds also told his troops to “crush any rules violators.”

“We are, in fact, in a crisis right now,” he wrote.

CNN’s Barbara Starr, Zach Wolf and Tim McCaughan contributed to this report.

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By Holly Yan and Faith Karimi