Pubdate: Fri, 25 May 2018
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2018 Star Advertiser


WASHINGTON - One airman said he felt paranoia. Another marveled at the
vibrant colors. A third admitted, "I absolutely just loved altering my

Meet service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles that are
among the most powerful in America's arsenal. Air Force records
obtained by The Associated Press show they bought, distributed and
used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as
part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure
military base in Wyoming. After investigators closed in, one airman
deserted to Mexico.

"Although this sounds like something from a movie, it isn't," said
Capt. Charles Grimsley, the lead prosecutor of one of several

A slip-up on social media by one airman enabled investigators to crack
the drug ring at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in March 2016. The details
are reported here for the first time. Fourteen airmen were
disciplined, of whom six were convicted in courts-martial of LSD use
or distribution or both.

None of the airmen was accused of using drugs on duty. Yet it's
another blow to the reputation of the Air Force's nuclear missile
corps, which has struggled at times with misbehavior, mismanagement
and low morale.

Although seen by some as a backwater of the U.S. military, the missile
force has returned to the spotlight as President Donald Trump has
called for strengthening U.S. nuclear firepower and exchanged threats
last year with North Korea. The administration's nuclear strategy
calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending in coming

The accused service members were from the 90th Missile Wing, which
operates one-third of the 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic
missiles that stand "on alert" 24/7 in underground silos scattered
across the northern Great Plains. The AP obtained transcripts of seven
courts-martial proceedings and related documents through Freedom of
Information Act requests over the past two years. They provide vivid
descriptions of LSD trips.

"I'm dying!" one airman is quoted as exclaiming, followed by "When is
this going to end?" during a "bad trip" on LSD in February 2016 at a
state park about 20 miles from F.E. Warren. A portion of that episode
was video-recorded by one member of the group; a transcript of the
audio was included in court records.

"I felt paranoia, panic," for hours after taking LSD, Airman 1st Class
Tommy N. Ashworth said under oath at his court-martial. He confessed
to using LSD three times while off duty. The first time, in the summer
of 2015, shook him up. "I didn't know if I was going to die that night
or not," he said as a witness at another airman's drug trial.

Others said they enjoyed the drug.

"Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear,"
Airman Basic Kyle S. Morrison testified. "In general, I felt more
alive." He became an informant for investigators and was sentenced to
five months confinement, 15 days of hard labor and loss of $5,200 in

It's unclear how long before being on duty any of the airmen had taken
LSD, which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide. Although illegal in
the U.S., it had been showing up so infrequently in drug tests across
the military that in December 2006 the Pentagon eliminated LSD
screening from standard drug-testing procedures.

By coincidence, the No. 2 Pentagon official at the time, Robert Work,
visited F.E. Warren one month before the drug investigation became
public. Work was there to assess progress in fixing problems in the
missile force. During 2013-14, the AP reported extensively on
personnel, resource, training and leadership problems. In an
interview, Work said he was not aware during his visit that anything
was amiss at the base.

In response to AP inquiries, an Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Uriah L.
Orland, said the drug activity took place during off-duty hours.
"There are multiple checks to ensure airmen who report for duty are
not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are able to execute
the mission safely, securely and effectively," he said.

Airman 1st Class Nickolos A. Harris, said to be the leader of the drug
ring, testified he had no trouble getting LSD and other drugs from
civilian sources. He pleaded guilty to using and distributing LSD and
using ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana.

"I absolutely just loved altering my mind," he told the judge, blaming
his decisions to use drugs on his addictive personality. Harris was
sentenced to 12 months in jail and other penalties, but under a
pre-trial agreement, he avoided a punitive discharge.

Harris had set out several "rules" for LSD use at a gathering in late
2015 that was recorded on video. Rule No. 1: "No social media at all."
He added: "No bad trips. Everybody's happy right now. Let's keep it
that way."

But social media proved the drug ring's undoing.

In March 2016, one member posted a Snapchat video of himself smoking
marijuana, setting Air Force investigators on their trail. One of the
accused, Airman 1st Class Devin R. Hagarty, fled to Mexico. "I started
panicking," he told a military judge after giving himself up and being
charged with desertion. He was sentenced to 13 months in a military
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