Babes, Booze and Nukes
How the Air Force general in charge of nuclear missiles almost wrecked relations with the Russians
by DAVID AXE & MATTHEW GAULT
Originally published on Dec. 20, 2013.
For five days in mid-July 2013, a delegation of the Pentagon’s top nuclear officials led by Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Carey traveled to Moscow to meet their counterparts in the Russian nuke force.
It was a make-nice involving the world’s biggest atomic powers, which for decades have possessed, and held back, the power to obliterate each other and the rest of the world in mere minutes.
The meeting was, in other words, a big freaking deal.
But to Carey — at the time the head of the 20th Air Force, America’s main nuclear ICBM strike force, with 9,600 airmen and 450 continent-blasting Minuteman missiles — it was a chance to engage in an epic, ego-fueled, taxpayer-funded bender.
Over the course of the five days, Carey allegedly guzzled around 50 drinks, hit on four different women — including three he later claimed might be Russian agents — and managed to repeatedly offend his Russian military hosts.
After an investigation, Carey was removed from command and assigned as a special assistant to the commander of the Air Force’s Space Command — a position with no real power. Still, that’s hardly a formal punishment for the man who did his best to wreck relations between the world’s top atomic powers while in the pursuit of booze and babes.
Carey’s marathon international insult is documented in a hilarious official report obtained by The Washington Post. Let’s count the drinks that disarmed the man once in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal.
Day one: Two glasses of wine, at least two beers
Weather delayed Carey’s trip from his headquarters in Wyoming to Washington, D.C. for onward travel to Moscow. He had only a few hours to rest in a local hotel before meeting his five-person delegation at Dulles airport on July 14.
Carey’s crew included representatives from the Pentagon’s joint staff, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s office, the Department of Energy, the Navy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the organization in charge of eliminating the world’s weapons of mass destruction.
Despite the esteemed company, Carey — apparently exhausted before even stepping onto the plane — was on his worst behavior. On the first leg of the flight he drank two glasses of wine and, delayed again in Zurich, chased the wine with at least two beers.
According to a witness, the general was “visibly agitated about the long delay at Zurich, he appeared drunk and, in the public area, talked loudly about the importance of his position as commander of the only operational nuclear force in the world and that he saves the world from war every day.”
But Carey was just pre-gaming before the big binge.
Day two: At least four beers plus two or more other drinks
The delegation checked into a Moscow Marriott the evening of July 15. First order of business was a team meeting to discuss the trip itinerary, including two days of meetings with Russian nuclear troops. At the meeting, Carey drank several beers … and began mouthing off.
“Again, he started in on the very loud discussions about being in charge of the only operationally deployed force and saving the world,” said a delegation member. Carey complained that his airmen had the worst morale in the Air Force — and blamed his superiors for “not helping out.”
The gripe did not include any classified information. But the witness described it as “not really something I was comfortable with you know, being part of in a Russian hotel in the middle of Moscow.”
Carey, who by this point had apparently slept only fitfully for several days running, went to the hotel lobby with one of his teammates, grabbed another beer and bought a cigar from a woman vendor. The male teammate proposed checking out a rooftop bar at the Ritz Carlton — a neighboring hotel — the next day.
But Carey suggested they go that night, and his colleague agreed.
At the rooftop bar, Carey had at least two more drinks. He and the other man met two young women who claimed to be British travel agents. The four revelers closed down the bar then wandered to the La Cantina Mexican restaurant, but it was shuttered for the night. Carey’s teammate mentioned that the Americans might go back to the Mexican joint the next day — and the girls should meet them there.
On return to America, Carey would voluntarily turn in the girls’ business cards to Air Force investigators, along with the cigar vendor’s card. The general would claim that the women’s behavior was fishy, and imply they might have been Russian agents. But Carey’s suspicion did not stop him from continuing to drink with the ladies in Moscow.
Day three: Nine vodka shots, a bottle of vodka and a bar crawl
July 16 was the first day of meetings with Russian troops. And boy howdy was it a boozy one. Carey was 45 minutes late meeting the rest of the team, plus some Russian military guides, waiting in the Marriott lobby.
The Russians had arranged a demonstration by nuclear-force trainees and were worried the Americans might miss it.
Carey had gotten just few hours of sleep and his eyes were bloodshot. He snoozed on the van ride to the Russian base but was still not at his best during the morning’s briefings. Claiming he could not understand the Russians’ military interpreter — described as an “attractive” young woman — Carey told one of his Russian-speaking teammates to take over the translating.
The Russians “were insulted … they were unhappy,” a witness said.
Some Russian trainees — apparently part of the Kremlin’s nuclear security force — showed off their fighting, first aid and vehicle maintenance skills. Addressing the Americans, Carey derided the demonstration as “sophomoric.”
Lunch was served in a tent near the training range. There were nine vodka toasts. Some of the Russians, including a general, sipped water instead. The Russian general, for one, said he needed to be sober since he was in charge. In an ill-conceived attempt to ape the Russians’ toasting conventions, Carey singled out the woman linguist he had previously insulted, raised his glass to her and called her “beautiful.”
Carey was drunk, according to the other Americans. He ran his mouth about the Syrian war — over which Washington and Moscow have serious disagreements — and also about National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia.
One witness reported that “at some point he announced that the reason he had been late [that] morning was that he had met two hot women at the bar the night before.” The Russians were less than thrilled about this and “made it very clear we had to be on time the next day.”
That afternoon and evening, the Americans visited a monastery and then Red Square. There was more drinking in the van. At the monastery, Carey insulted the tour guide, a woman. “At one point he tried to give her a fist bump. She had no idea what he was trying to do,” one American said.
Carey wandered away from the main group. That evening, the nearly incapacitated general couldn’t keep up with his teammates in Red Square and sat alone “pouting and sulking.” He told the others he wanted to bail on the second day of meetings.
But that night, he was apparently feeling better. He decided the delegation would go to La Cantina, the Mexican restaurant. There was a Beatles cover band he wanted to see, he said. At La Cantina, he drank more and kept pressuring the band to let him play guitar or sing with them.
The band declined.
The two, ahem, “British” women showed up. One kissed Carey on the cheek and the general joined them at their table, where he told them about his job and the trip. Carey danced with one of the girls. “It was a fast dance,” according to a witness.
The general, two other Americans and the girls closed down the Mexican joint and hit a couple more bars. While stumbling back from the night of drinking, Carey opened up to one of his colleagues, again talking about not wanting to attend the next day’s proceedings.
But his drinking buddy convinced him he had to go, and Carey resolved to do his best. He didn’t get to bed until around 3:00, leaving him just four hours to sleep. By this point, Carey had apparently thrown back between 20 and 30 drinks since leaving his headquarters three days earlier.
Days four & five: Twenty-five vodka shots, cognac and three glasses of wine
Despite his late-night booze-inspired resolution to set a good example, on the morning of July 17, Carey appeared to be having a hard time concentrating. He was 15 minutes late to the hotel lobby, looking exhausted, his eyes again bloodshot. As before, he slept through the car ride.
The demonstrations that morning were much like those the previous day. Carey was bored. And again he had problems with the Russian linguist, loudly correcting her translations in a crowded room, insulting her and embarrassing himself. The Russians were upset, but the translator — taking the high road — smoothed it over.
Carey then proceeded to embarrass himself further by attempting a lame joke with another translator. In a misguided attempt at levity, Carey proceeded to ask the man, “Can you hear me now?” Over and over again, invoking the now decade-old Verizon ad campaign.
The translator didn’t get it. Neither did the Russian brass Carey was there to make nice with. “The Russians were looking at him like are you crazy?” one witness said.
Then the drinking began.
At lunch that day, the number of toasts went up from the previous day’s nine to 25. According to witnesses, Carey participated in all of them. He even had a little wine on the side. During the meal, Carey’s face and eyes reddened and his speech slurred. He interrupted some of the toasts, irritating his Russian hosts.
He was wrecked.
“That’s the deal when you go to a Russian toasting event — you’re into the toasts,” Carey told an investigator. “The nice thing is that the toasting glasses are not full ounce glasses.”
But the glasses were full enough to get the general drunk, twice.
On the ride back to the hotel Carey disco-napped in the car but sprang to life once the group reached the front doors. He posted up in the hotel lounge and finished off a bottle of cognac left over from the day’s proceedings. Then he switched to wine.
Carey wanted to pull an all-nighter before flying home, in order to “get his body clock back in sync,” he said. Most of his associates fled. One delegate said he “didn’t want to end up in another situation like the night before.”
Some of the delegation stayed up with him and they chatted all night with the cigar lady about science and technology. In the morning, Carey and his delegation flew home. No further incidents were reported.
When they landed, someone complained. The investigation into Carey’s conduct started on July 30. The general declined to answer many questions and responded vaguely to others. “Carey’s account of events varied greatly at times from those of the other U.S. members on the trip,” an interviewer wrote.
But the rest of the American delegation recalled the five-day bender with total clarity. It’s clear, reading the investigators’ report, that every other person on the trip told the same story.
That Carey acted like a total frat boy douche.
Worse, the general apparently realized while in Moscow that the supposedly British women he cavorted with two nights in a row posed a security risk — but that didn’t stop him from drinking and flirting.
“It just seemed kind of peculiar that we saw them one night and then saw them again later while we were there and for people who are in business to be kinda conveniently in the same place where we’re at, it seemed odd to me,” Carey told an investigator.
Same thing with the cigar vendor. “She was asking questions about physics and optics and I was like, dude, this doesn’t normally happen. … A tobacco story lady talking about physics in the wee hours of the morning doesn’t make whole lot of sense.”
No, dude, what doesn’t make sense is how the man then in charge of some of the deadliest weapons in human history decided that a diplomatic mission to a rival superpower was a fine time to get shitfaced, chase sketchy women and insult the very people he was sent to impress.