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34 nuclear missile officers cheated on tests, Air Force says

One of the biggest exam-cheating scandals in Air Force history has resulted in 34 nuclear missile launch officers being pulled from their jobs for cheating on a proficiency exams. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

The military has stripped the certification and security clearances of 34 officers at a Montana missile base after uncovering what it believes is the largest cheating scandal ever to hit the nuclear force, Air Force officials told NBC News Wednesday.

The officers, all assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, are accused of apparently texting answers to each other on a monthly proficiency exam or knew that the cheating was going on and didn't report it, the officials said.

The monthly exam tested the officers' knowledge of the missile launch systems. It was administered in August and September 2013.

Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh said the officers shared the exam "electronically.” Text messages were involved, he said. He would not expand on the exact circumstances of the alleged cheating, citing an ongoing investigation.

Every missilier (officers trained in launch procedures) in the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Community will be re-tested by the close of business tomorrow, the new Air Force Secretary, Deborah Lee James, said on Wednesday.

James said that she is "profoundly disappointed" in this behavior, but she insisted that this is a failure of integrity, not of the overall nuclear mission.

Welsh said that there is no indication that the cheating scandal extended beyond these 34 officers, or beyond the one test last summer.

He said he does not know of any other time when so many officers have been de-certified from the ICBM mission at once.

There are about 190 missiliers at Malmstrom, one of three U.S. Air Force bases responsible for the ICBM program.

Welsh also revealed that the investigation into drug use by 10 Air Force officers has now expanded to include one more officer. Several of those 11 officers were ICBM missile launch officers at FE Warren in Wyoming and Malmstrom.

All of those involved in the cheating scandal and the drug use are lower-ranking officers — 2nd lieutenants through captains.

Jeff Black of NBC News contributed to this report.