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Could Rioters Get a Hold of the U.S. Military’s Nuclear Football?

Nuclear Football
Image: Creative Commons.

The Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General has confirmed in a recently shared memorandum that it would review security procedures to better understand whether the security of the Presidential Emergency Satchel—commonly known as the “nuclear football”—would be compromised in certain events.

The Office of Inspector General’s confirmation of such a move comes after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when rioters breached security and entered the Capitol’s halls. There were reports that suggested that the protestors were within a hundred feet of former Vice President Mike Pence, who along with former President Donald Trump, was followed around the clock by a military aide transporting the nuclear football.

“We plan to begin the subject evaluation in July 2021. The objective of this evaluation is to determine the extent that DoD (Department of Defense) processes and procedures are in place and adequate to alert DoD officials in the event that the Presidential Emergency Satchel is lost, stolen, or compromised,” the memorandum reads.

“This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event. We may revise the objective as the evaluation proceeds, and we will also consider suggestions from management for additional or revised objectives. We will perform the evaluation within the Washington D.C. locality. We may identify additional locations during the evaluation,” it continues.

What’s In The Satchel?

The Drive noted that “the contents of the forty-five-pound Presidential Emergency Satchel aren’t exactly known. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the nuclear football contains a secure telephone, a booklet containing procedures for securing the President in the event of an emergency, a book of codes needed to co-authorize the use of nuclear weapons, and the all-important ‘black book’ of pre-planned targeted response options.”

The President has the sole authority to launch a nuclear weapons strike “by identifying himself to the Pentagon with unique codes that only they possess. These codes are often referred to as the ‘gold codes’ and the President carries them on his or her person in what is called ‘the biscuit.’”

‘Breach Of Almost Incomprehensible Proportions’

CNN had previously reported that U.S. Strategic Command—which since 1992 has been responsible for all strategic nuclear forces in the U.S. arsenal—was initially unaware how close the rioters were able to get to Pence and his nuclear football.

“The risk associated with the insurrectionists getting their hands on Pence’s football wasn’t that they could have initiated an unauthorized launch. But had they stolen the football and acquired its contents, which include pre-planned nuclear strike options, they could have shared the contents with the world,” Kingston Reif, an expert on nuclear weapons policy at the Arms Control Association, told the news outlet.

“Such an outcome would have been a security breach of almost incomprehensible proportions. And it ought to raise further questions about the rationale for the anachronism that is the football,” he added.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

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