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Air Force drug probe widened to include certification cheating

WASHINGTON — A drug investigation of officers at six Air Force bases, including two that operate nuclear missiles, has been widened to include allegations of cheating on certification tests, defense officials said Wednesday.

The officials said the cheating probe involves missile launch control officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. One official said it includes about 37 people. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the expansion of the probe on the record before it was announced.

They said the cheating allegations revolve around routine tests the service members have to take to insure their job proficiency. They said information about the possible cheating emerged from the ongoing probe into drug use at several bases.

The Pentagon said the Air Force’s top civilian, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, and its top uniformed officer, Gen. Mark Welsh, planned a news conference Wednesday to update the status of the investigation.

Last week the Pentagon disclosed the original drug probe of a total of 10 officers — nine lieutenants and one captain — at six bases. It provided few other details beyond saying the officers were suspected of possessing “recreational drugs.”

The matter is being probed by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

The original disclosure of a drug investigation said the officers alleged to be involved were at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.; Royal Air Force base Lakenheath in England; Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and two bases that operate intercontinental ballistic missiles — F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and Malmstrom.

First word of the investigation came last Thursday moments before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appeared at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming to deliver a pep talk to members of the 90th Missile Wing, which operates 150 ICBMs. Hagel did not mention the drug probe but praised the missile force for its dedication and professionalism.

Last week an Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, said the probe began with an investigation of two officers at Edwards and quickly widened to other bases because of the officers’ contacts with others about drug possession.

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