Story highlights

Incidents of misconduct prompt call for independent review

Officers cheated on test, a general was relieved of command over behavior

U.S. officials say nuclear arsenal remains secure, despite problems with personnel

CNN  — 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering an independent review of the nation’s nuclear force following revelations of misconduct involving officers, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Top leaders of the force plan to meet with Hagel in coming weeks, Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

The action follows a recent disclosure that nearly three dozen Air Force officers at a nuclear missile base in Montana were involved in cheating on a proficiency test.

That followed a decision by senior military officials to discipline a general with nuclear oversight responsibilities whose personal misbehavior involving alcohol and women on an overseas trip got him into hot water.

Kirby said “clearly, we’ve got some issues here,” but added the Pentagon remains confident the U.S. nuclear arsenal is secure.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force announced 34 officers with the 341st Missile Wing were implicated in the cheating scandal after a drug possession probe that involved two of those officers.

Sixteen officers were ultimately found to have actually cheated on the monthly proficiency exam while the rest knew the answers had been shared with others and did not report the violation, the Pentagon said.

All those disciplined in the investigation are no longer certified to conduct nuclear operations.

There are approximately 190 officers overseeing readiness of nuclear weapons systems in Montana, meaning the scandal has touched nearly 20% of that force.

Other scandals include October’s news that Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, 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.

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

Also in October, Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, who also oversaw nuclear weapons forces, 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.

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

In August, 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, global strike commander Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski said in August.

And in April, an Air Force commander stripped 17 of his officers in Minot, North Dakota, of their authority to control and launch nuclear missiles after they did poorly in an inspection. They were ordered to undergo 60 to 90 days of intensive refresher training on how to do their jobs.

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