US Air Force bars 17 officers from controlling and launching nuclear missiles

A MX or 'Peacekeeper' missile, left, and two versions of the Minuteman missile sit at the entrance of Warren Air Force base near Cheyenne, WY.</p>

A MX or 'Peacekeeper' missile, left, and two versions of the Minuteman missile sit at the entrance of Warren Air Force base near Cheyenne, WY.

The US Air Force has stripped 17 commanders of their ability to control and launch nuclear missiles, citing "rot" within the organization's ranks. 

The Associated Press obtained an e-mail from Air Force commander Lieutenant Colonel Jay Folds banning the officers, which highlights the department's failings. 

The Air Force confirmed the move, which is unprecedented; Lt. Col. Angie Blair, a spokeswoman for Air Force Global Strike Command, called it the "most extensive sidelining ever of launch crew members." 

“We are, in fact, in a crisis right now,” Lt. Col. Folds wrote. "Did you know that we, as an operations group, have fallen — and its it time to stand ourselves back up?"

The AP described the e-mail as depicting "a culture of indifference, with at least one intentional violation of missile safety rules and an apparent unwillingness among some to challenge or report those who violate rule." 

The decision to restrict the officers — who are mostly of junior rank — from controlling nukes came after an internal inspection at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, which is responsible for launching nuclear-armed worldwide at any moment. 

The unit came "as close to failing the inspection as you can get without actually failing," the Atlantic reported, scoring a "D" grade on launch proficiency, its main responsibility. 

The Air Force covered up the unit's failings, publicly calling the launch a success. 

Chairman of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee Senator Richard Durbin, told the AP that the report “could not be more troubling." 

More from GlobalPost: North Korea moves missile with 'considerable' range after nuclear threat against US