The Complex

New Nuclear Scandal Rocks Navy

It turns out the Air Force isn't the only service with a cheating scandal in the ranks of its nuclear force.

With the Air Force grappling with growing evidence of systemic wrongdoing among its nuclear personnel, the Navy announced Tuesday that, it, too has uncovered a similar problem at a nuclear propulsion base in Charleston, S.C.

Senior Navy officials said they'd already fingered 30 sailors but acknowledged that the total numbers could grow. And if the Air Force scandal is any indication, they will: Air Force commanders first said 34 officers were implicated, only to later raise that estimate to 92. They now say the true figure is likely to be even higher.

Tuesday's announcement means the hot seat the Air Force has been occupying for the last several weeks must now be shared with the Navy, the only other service that operates nuclear systems.

Navy officials said that that a sailor-instructor from the nuclear power training unit in Charleston had come forward after colleagues asked if he or she wanted to participate in a cheating ring. The alleged ring includes senior enlisted personnel who allegedly shared information about how to pass proficiency tests designed to measure their knowledge of naval nuclear reactors.

As Navy officials put it, their system worked: the senior sailor rebuffed the personnel running the cheating ring and immediately alerted the program's chain of command. Navy officials, who had already begun a review of their own nuclear force after the Air Force scandal came to light, said they were conducting a formal investigation into the alleged incident.

"To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement whenever I hear about integrity issues," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who was accompanied at a last-minute press briefing at the Pentagon by the head of the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Program, Adm. John Richardson.

Navy officials said there are about 16,000 sailors in the Navy's nuclear propulsion program; so far, "less than 1 percent" of them are potentially implicated in the incident. A Navy official put the number of senior sailors who had been decertified at about 30 thus far.

The incident took place in a schoolhouse used for courses on nuclear power propulsion, and Navy officials were quick to stress that their problems - unlike those in the Air Force - did not involve personnel with direct access to nuclear weapons. The test in question measures a sailor's knowledge about one of the 11 "watch stations" on a nuclear reactor.

"I take full responsibility for this incident - it is mine to investigate and to correct," Richardson told reporters.

The Air Force said late last week that as many as 92 nuclear force officers were implicated in a test cheating scandal for a proficiency test. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the cheating had thus far been confined to officers at the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. As first reported by Foreign Policy, the scandal at Malmstrom has put all of the promotions for its senior officers on hold, including at least one colonel who had been nominated to become a general officer.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has also ordered a number of reviews of the nuclear force.

Air Force exams require officers to score 90 percent or higher on the proficiency tests, and those stringent requirements are seen as a possible reason so many appear to have cheated.

Richardson said no such dynamic exists in the testing regimen within the Navy.

"With respect to the morale, we and the necessity to pass these exams in order to advance, that's not really a dimension in our program," he said. "We do not have that kind of 90 percent and above type of dynamic in our program... and so we don't really see that being a dynamic here."

For Richardson and the Navy's other top brass, that means the mystery of why so many sailors appear to have cheated on key tests may be even harder to resolve.

SAUL LOEB/AFP

National Security

New Details Emerge In Massive Army Financial Scandal

One of the largest fraud investigations in the Army's history has grown even larger, with lawmakers releasing new evidence that a troubled Army National Guard recruiting program allowed hundreds of troops, including a two-star general and at least 18 colonels, to effectively steal as much as $66 million.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has been leading the congressional investigation into the National Guard program, repeatedly asked senior officials who had overseen the Army's now-defunct Recruiting Assistance Program why the initiative hadn't been designed with better anti-fraud measures. The program offered cash incentives to all troops who helped nudge other would-be soldiers to join the military. The Army's actual recruiters weren't eligible for the money, but an Army audit completed in 2012 concluded that disgruntled recruiters and other troops may have unlawfully cooked the books to collect tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars that they didn't deserve.

"This is what kills me about this, you guys: This is, like, basic," a clearly exasperated McCaskill said at one point during Tuesday's hearing in front of her subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, her voice rising. "You just assumed whoever was typing [recruits' information] in was telling the truth! And then nobody checked to see if they're lying! You're giving out millions of dollars, no questions asked!"

The hearing included two panels of officers: one comprising active-duty generals from the active-duty Army, and one including National Guard officials who previously oversaw the flawed recruiting program. Both groups promised to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, but the National Guard officials also defended the initiative, saying it propped up the force at a time when it was 20,000 soldiers short and strapped by not only war operations, but mobilizations at home to deal with catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina, which devastated a broad swath of the southeastern United States in 2005.

Suspicions about fraud in the National Guard program have swirled around it for years, but the Army always downplayed those concerns and said it had been properly overseen. Their confidence was misplaced: the Army's Criminal Investigative Service has now initiated 559 investigations into 1,219 people who have skimmed $29 million through the initiative, officials disclosed for the first time Monday. Maj. Gen. David Quantock, the head of Army CID, told Congress on Tuesday that he believes that figure could grow to between $50 million and $66 million as CID agents continue to unravel cases that in some cases involve events that took place years earlier.

That means some soldiers who broke the law may avoid prosecution because the statute of limitations for their crimes will have run out. Other administrative forms of punishment may be possible in those situations, such as reductions in rank, which can affect pensions.

The Guard's version of the program was commonly known as G-RAP, and remained in place until 2012. It total, it cost $408.7 million, Lt. Gen. William Grisoli, director of Army staff, told McCaskill's subcommittee on Tuesday. The Army Reserve and active-duty force also used similar programs for shorter periods of time, spending $42.6 million and $7.9 million, respectively.

The program worked by giving soldiers between $2,000 and $7,500 for getting others to meet with recruiters and join the Guard. It has been widely hailed as a success over the years by Army officials, who noted that the Guard was about 20,000 short of its authorized 350,000-man size in 2005 but met its numbers after the program was put in place. G-RAP was canceled in 2012 by Army Secretary John McHugh, who also quietly called at the time for internal reviews because of the fraud allegations.

Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn (ret.), who commanded the Army National Guard from June 2005 to June 2009, was among the officials who defended the incentive program on Tuesday, saying its success in finding those additional recruits should not be overlooked. He pushed back against McCaskill's allegation that he and his staff didn't do enough to oversee the money, saying he regularly urged the general officers in charge of the National Guard in each state and territory to watch out for fraud. Those other officers were potentially at fault, he implied, for failing to keep a closer eye on the soldiers under their individual commands.

"I told them, 'We have to catch the first peckerwoods who get out here and mess this thing up. And, we have to prosecute them quickly,'" Vaughn told the subcommittee on Tuesday, using a surprisingly colorful military epithet. "And I did that 18 months in a row."

But McCaskill zeroed in on the oversight issue again. Merely telling the commanders of National Guard branches in each state to watch for fraud isn't the same as making sure there's a formalized process in place to catch it, she said. McCaskill added that the National Guard officials overseeing G-RAP and the contractor assisting them, Docupak, should have made sure the money was being spent appropriately.

"What worries me a little bit," McCaskill said, "is that it reminds me what I heard around contracting in Iraq from the generals: 'Not my problem. Not my command. Not my issue.'"

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