Hagel Concerned By Ethical Lapses In Armed Forces

Scandals seem to be popping up almost weekly in the military: Air Force missile officers cheating on exams. Army officers getting kickbacks. Navy instructors sharing test results. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered some reviews of the nuclear force, and asked for an update on ethics teaching at military schools.

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The American military is trying to get to the bottom of a series of scandals. Air Force nuclear missile officers cheated on tests, Navy sailors are accused of the same, and more - enough that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is concerned that there's a pattern here, a problem with ethical lapses across the armed services. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now to talk about this. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Well, what is the latest? What is Secretary Hagel looking to do about these problems?

BOWMAN: Well, Renee, Secretary Hagel had his weekly meeting with the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, along with top admirals and generals, and he talked about this. He said he's concerned about what he sees as a growing problem and he's worried they still don't understand the depth of the problem of ethical lapses, leadership failings here.

And his spokesman said Hagel's going to bring it up at every weekly meeting with the top brass and he wants tangible results.

MONTAGNE: I've just mentioned a couple of these incidents that have made the news. Remind us of what they're about.

BOWMAN: Well, just this week there was news of a scandal involving Navy instructors working on nuclear propulsion at a school in South Carolina. Several dozen were apparently sharing tests with one another. And then, just prior to that, over the past few weeks, the Air Force said its nuclear missile launch officers at a base in Montana had been cheating on their proficiency tests.

That number has grown from a few dozen now to nearly a hundred. And both these investigations are ongoing. And also this week there was a congressional hearing about another ongoing investigation, this one involving the Army, and it involves Army recruiters getting kickbacks from a recruiting program. So there are a number of examples and they seem to be popping up every week.

MONTAGNE: And Secretary of Defense Hagel is, as I've just said, you know, he's concerned about a pattern. But is there a connection?

BOWMAN: Well, no, these are all very different cases. But what Hagel's worried about is there could be more, and these scandals involve everyone from enlisted sailors to Air Force junior officers, all the way up to admirals and generals. So what he's asking the brass to do is this. He's asking them, you know, do we have a widespread ethical problem within the military itself.

MONTAGNE: And how does he plan to get an answer to that question, other than the responses?

BOWMAN: Well, there are a couple of things going. First of all, there are two reviews underway of the Pentagon's strategic nuclear mission. Both the Navy and Air Force. He's asked for a review of ethics in leadership training at the service academies and the war colleges, and so there are a few things going on right now. But he wants more to be done. And Renee, if there's any bright spot here, it's with the Navy scandal because one of the sailors was asked to take part in the cheating and instead he alerted authorities.

And that's how the Navy scandal was uncovered. But again, he's pressing on the brass to do a lot more.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thank you very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

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