Or, Weeden said, the weaker-than-expected results might reflect a slump in the quality of instruction prior to those tests.
It's not clear what, if any, connection there might be to the fact that the Malmstrom wing failed a nuclear security inspection in August and was successfully re-inspected in October. The August failure was related to a problem with security forces, not the performance of launch officers.
Initially the Air Force said 34 officers assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom were implicated; that later was raised to 92. All have been taken off launch duty, creating a shortage that has been filled in part by temporarily augmenting Malmstrom with 10 launch officers each from ICBM bases in North Dakota and Wyoming.
About 40 of the 92 are alleged to have transmitted or received test answers; the rest are accused of knowing but not reporting it.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force's top general, told reporters on Jan. 15 that "the indications are that this compromise that we're aware of happened in the August-September timeframe." A spokesman, Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, said it's not clear whether the cheating was only in August or only in September, or in both months.
Test results obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act suggest a different scenario.
— All three of the squadrons that operate the Minuteman 3 force at Malmstrom had average or weaker-than-usual T-1 test scores in August-September. Of the 44 members of the 10th Missile Squadron tested in August, for example, 79 percent recorded perfect scores. That was about the norm during the spring and summer months of 2013 but well below most other months. In September the squadron had 42 percent perfect scores — the weakest of any month in 2013. Perfect scores are not required; to pass the test an officer needs to get 90 percent correct, meaning he or she could not miss more than three out of 30 questions. Only one failing grade in the Malmstrom wing was recorded out of 2,181 T-1 tests completed during 2013.
— All three squadrons did markedly better on the T-1 test in October, November and December, after the period of alleged cheating. In the 490th Missile Squadron, for example, 47 officers were tested in October and 46, or 98 percent, got perfect scores; 45 of 47 were perfect in November and 47 of 51 were perfect in December.
— In January, the month in which the cheating was announced and the first implicated officers were removed from launch duty, test results declined sharply. The 12th Missile Squadron, for example, had 62 percent perfect scores in January, whereas it had about 90 percent perfect scores in each of the preceding three months.
The AP's review of test data provided by each of the three ICBM bases shows widely varying monthly results in 2013.
Records of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. - where no reports of cheating have surfaced - show that of 153 officers who took the T-1 test in June, 30 failed. Just six months earlier, in December 2012, 150 in that unit took the test and none failed. What's more, all 150 of those officers got perfect scores - not a single incorrect answer.
Follow Robert Burns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/robertburnsAP