Nuclear commander lost job after being caught playing fake poker chips Downfall of Vice-Admiral Timothy Giardina is latest embarrassment for America's missile men, amid low morale and a string of public scandals Vice-Admiral Timothy Giardina Photo: AP Photo/U.S. Navy By Rob Crilly, New York 3:50PM GMT 23 Nov 2014 By day, Vice-Admiral Timothy Giardina was one of the US Navy’s most senior figures – as deputy head of US Strategic Command, he was number two in command of America’s nuclear arsenal. But by night, at the Horseshoe casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he was known as Navy Tim, a heavy gambler who was accused of making his own $500 poker chips and eventually banned. His removal from his role in the uppermost tier of America’s defence establishment was carried out last year, but the reasons behind his downfall are only now becoming clear. Documents unveiled under a Freedom of Information Act request depict him as an habitual poker player, spending more than 1,000 hours – or 15 hours per week – at the Horseshoe’s tables in the 18 months before being caught playing three phoney chips in June 2013. However, one man’s ruin may be a symptom of a wider malaise at the heart of America’s nuclear deterrent. Related Articles US nuclear crews shared single spanner for 450 missiles 14 Nov 2014 US suspends 34 nuclear missile officers for cheating on exams 15 Jan 2014 America's nuclear weapons general sacked 11 Oct 2013 22 'pointless' US nuclear bombs at Dutch airbase 10 Jun 2013 Earlier this year, other details emerged of a force in crisis. An ageing stock of missiles, corroded launch silos and an uncertain role in a post-Cold War world have sent morale plunging among the men and women who call themselves Missileers. The result, according to several studies, has been a string of leadership, training and disciplinary problems, which prompted a $10 billion root-and-branch overhaul announced a little over a week ago. No one at the Horseshoe Casino would have known any of that or that the man at the tables was a three-star admiral. After graduating from the US Naval Academy in 1979, Mr Giardina worked his way up the ranks as a career submarine officer. Among his commands were fast attack subs and vessels carrying ballistic nuclear weapons. Yet his career began to unravel last year, when the Horseshoe discovered three homemade $500 chips. Surveillance video revealed Mr Giardina as the source. Interviewed two days later, Mr Giardina claimed to be an innocent victim. He said he had bought $2,000 in chips for a little under their face value from a person in a casino lavatory. "It’s not worth risking your whole career over,” he told casino security, but later admitted misleading investigators. The state investigator’s report said a review of surveillance footage revealed other “odd behaviours” by Giardina at the Horseshoe. "Giardina was observed taking cigarette butts out of public ashtrays and smoking them,” it said. Gambling is not banned in the services, even among those with sensitive roles – despite the risk that anyone accumulating substantial debts could be vulnerable to bribery or blackmail. Mr Giardina was banned temporarily from two casinos but returned to play more, eventually earning a lifetime ban from the Horseshoe’s owners. An Army lab revealed that a $500 chip had been scanned and printed on to stickers, which were then applied to a genuine $1 chip. The cheap chips were painted in the colour scheme of the more expensive counters. However, the amateur job covered up secret security features only visible under UV light, and Mr Giardina’s DNA was found on the underside of a sticker. He was fired from his post at Strategic Command last year, and reduced from three-star to two-star admiral. Earlier this year he was found guilty of two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer – lying to an investigator and passing fake gambling chips. He was given a written reprimand and ordered to forfeit $4,000 in pay. He has declined to comment on the case. Details of Mr Giardina’s gambling habits were revealed by the Associated Press, which filed the Freedom of Information request. It is not the only example of misconduct among senior officers with responsibility for the US nuclear arsenal. Last year Maj Gen Michael Carey was removed as head of the 20th Air Force, the command responsible for 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles, for what was initially described as "personal misbehaviour" during an overseas trip. The Air Force Inspector General later described late-night drinking sessions at a hotel in Russia with foreign women, including the "cigar shop lady". In March, nine midlevel nuclear commanders were sacked after it emerged that more than 90 crew members responsible for missile launches were swapping the answers of proficiency tests. The string of embarrassments has painted a picture of a service in crisis. This month, Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, admitted the country's nuclear arsenal had fallen into disrepair and needed billions of dollars of upgrades. Among the most serious findings were blast doors over silos that no longer sealed and that units responsible for America's intercontinental ballistic missiles had been forced to share a single spanner to tighten bolts on Minuteman 3 warheads, FedExing the tool between three bases.