The Complex

Navy’s Nuke Cheating Scandal Is Getting Even Bigger

It turns out that a Navy cheating scandal at a nuclear power training site in Charleston, South Carolina, is much bigger than originally feared. Senior Navy officials said in February that roughly 20 sailors had cheated on their qualification exams. Now, 78 enlisted sailors are implicated and the Navy is kicking out at least 34 ...

DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett
DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

It turns out that a Navy cheating scandal at a nuclear power training site in Charleston, South Carolina, is much bigger than originally feared.

Senior Navy officials said in February that roughly 20 sailors had cheated on their qualification exams. Now, 78 enlisted sailors are implicated and the Navy is kicking out at least 34 of them, according to the military. Meanwhile, 10 of the sailors remain under criminal investigation. So far, the cheating appears to be limited to this unit in Charleston, but it dates back to at least 2007, according to an internal Navy investigation. The Navy’s new punishments were first reported by the Associated Press.

The Navy is requiring additional ethics training and making other changes but some say the problem runs much deeper than just one unit or even one service. The Navy’s cheating scandal is just one of several high-profile ethical violations found in the military in the last year.

"There’s something in the water right now," said Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine two-star general and former Senate Armed Services Committee staffer. "There’s an underlying, fundamental thread tying these incidents together," Punaro said, pointing to cheating, bribery, sexual harassment, and procurement scandals across the services.

But he said it’s particularly worrisome to see ethics problems crop up among the Navy’s nuclear forces.

"This is the last place you would ever expect to see this," Punaro said. "They have just the highest standards you could ever believe, so that should make us nervous about the Navy but also what’s happening elsewhere."

The Pentagon is worried too. In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tapped Rear Adm. Margaret "Peg" Klein, a former Naval Academy commandant, to serve as his "senior advisor for military professionalism," a newly created position ordered to report directly to the secretary about ethics matters.

Meanwhile, the Air Force had its own cheating scandal, at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where nine officers were fired and the commander resigned after 100 or so officers were implicated in January.

In February, word got out that more than 800 soldiers were under investigation for allegedly gaming a National Guard recruitment program and pocketing millions of dollars in kickbacks.

The Navy is also dealing with multiple bribery scandals.

The most famous one centers around Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based contractor that supplied and serviced Navy ships at ports all over Asia. Multiple senior naval officials, enlisted sailors, and an agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service were charged with accepting bribes from the company and its CEO, Leonard Glenn Francis, known as "Fat Leonard." In exchange, the Navy officials provided inside information that helped the company win contracts and make more money.

But it’s not the only bribery scandal.

On Aug. 12, Scott Miserendino, a former contractor for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, pled guilty to accepting bribes and conspiring to commit bribery, according to the Justice Department.

"In addition to the more than $265,000 in cash bribes, Miserendino also admitted that he and [Kenny Toy, the former afloat programs manager for the N6 Command, Control, Communication, and Computer Systems Directorate] received other things of value, including flat screen televisions, laptop computers, a vacation rental in Nags Head, North Carolina, a football helmet signed by Troy Aikman, and softball bats," the Justice Department said in its statement.

Punaro blames these scandals on a lack of accountability and leadership up and down the chain of command.

"If you can cancel $50 billion worth of procurements and not one person is held accountable, what does that tell you about the system?" Punaro asked.

Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. @K8brannen

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