WASHINGTON (AP) — The No. 2 officer at the military command in charge of all U.S. nuclear war-fighting forces has been suspended and is under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for issues related to gambling, officials said Saturday.
The highly unusual action against a high-ranking officer at U.S. Strategic Command was made more than three weeks ago but not publicly announced.
Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, who heads Strategic Command, suspended the deputy commander, Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, from his duties on Sept. 3, according to the command's top spokeswoman, Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze. Giardina is still assigned to the command but is prohibited from performing duties related to nuclear weapons and other issues requiring a security clearance, she said.
Kehler has recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Giardina be reassigned, Kunze said. Giardina has been the deputy commander of Strategic Command since December 2011. He is a career submarine officer and prior to starting his assignment there was the deputy commander and chief of staff at U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Two senior U.S. officials familiar with the investigation said it is related to gambling issues. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe in incomplete.
Strategic Command oversees the military's nuclear fighter units, including the Navy's nuclear-armed submarines and the Air Force's nuclear bombers and nuclear land-based missiles. It is located near Omaha, Neb.
Kunze said Strategic Command did not announce the Sept. 3 suspension because Giardina remains under investigation and action on Kehler's recommendation that Giardina be reassigned is pending. The suspension was first reported by the Omaha World-Herald.
The spokeswoman said a law enforcement agency, which she would not identify, began an investigation of Giardina on June 16. Kehler became aware of this on July 16, and the following day he asked the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to begin a probe.
The suspension is yet another blow to the military's nuclear establishment. Last spring the nuclear missile unit at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., pulled 17 launch control officers off duty after a problematic inspection and later relieved of duty the officer in charge of training and proficiency. In August a nuclear missile unit at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., failed a nuclear safety and security inspection; nine days later an officer in charge of the unit's security forces was relieved of duty.