Sunday, 01 August 2021 08:04 GMT

Pentagon puzzle: What if the nuclear 'football' goes missing?


(MENAFN - Asia Times) It controls the greatest nuclear weapons arsenal, in the world — a total of 6,185 nuclear warheads.

From this hand-carried black leather satchel, comes armageddon … the end of everything, as you and I know it.

According to a report by Oriana Pawlyk at Military.com , during the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, then-Vice President Mike Pence and his Secret Service team were seen on security camera footage fleeing down a flight of stairs as rioters broke into the building.

Also seen, was a military officer holding the backup“Nuclear Football” (the President also has one) accompanied the vice president.

Frighteningly, top officials from US Strategic Command, which oversees the nation's nuclear weapon stockpile, said they were totally unaware of just how close rioters got to Pence and his security detail.

According to Stacey Plaskett, delegate to the House of Representatives from the US Virgin Islands, the rioters came within 100 feet from where Pence was sheltering in place.

Only by the grace of God, and, perhaps the utter stupidity of the Trump supporters, the football did not fall into the hands of the Capitol Hill attackers.

Could some lunatic fringe Trump supporter have launched a nuclear attack?

Not likely, say experts, because such a person would not have the launch codes.

However, as part of the fallout (pardon the pun) from this tragic day, the Pentagon's Inspector General is evaluating whether the Defense Department has done adequate planning in the event the emergency satchel known as the Nuclear Football goes missing.

In a letter dated July 19, the IG's office said it has begun reviewing the existing plans to alert top officials and take action in the event the briefcase is lost, stolen or somehow compromised, the report said. 

Multiple briefcases exist.

Both the president and vice president are always accompanied by the“football.”

A“designated survivor” — someone in the presidential line of succession chosen to stay at a secure location — also is given a briefcase during events that require both the president and vice president to attend, such as the presidential inauguration, in case of disaster.

The“Football” was actually invented by Capt. Edward“Ned” Beach, Jr., a submarine officer who served as a naval aide to Dwight Eisenhower during his presidency, according to a 1991 Newsweek article .




US Vice-President Mike Pence is escorted to safety by his Secret Service team during the insurrection at Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. Credit: NBC News.

“The objective of this evaluation is to determine the extent that DoD 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,” Randolph R. Stone, an assistant inspector general, wrote in a July 19 letter to the director of the White House military office and the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

“This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event.”

Lawmakers earlier this year lobbied for President Joe Biden to relinquish his sole authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons, stating that one person should not possess such an enormous responsibility. 

Nearly three dozen Democrats said that the commander in chief should consult the vice president and speaker of the House before ordering an attack, the report said.

But experts have argued that such a change would waste precious time if an adversary has already made the first move.

In fact, a recurring complaint of presidents and military aides alike has been that the Football contained too much onerous documentation.

President Jimmy Carter, who qualified as a nuclear submarine commander, was aware that he would have only a few minutes to decide how to respond to a nuclear strike, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

He ordered that the war plans be drastically simplified.

A former military aide to president Bill Clinton, Colonel Buzz Patterson, would later describe the resulting pared-down set of choices as akin to a“Denny's breakfast menu.”

“It's like picking one out of Column A and two out of Column B,” he told the History Channel .

Contrary to popular belief, the Football does not actually contain a big red button for launching a nuclear war.




Jack Kennedy felt it was“insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilization.” Credit: Handout.

Its primary purpose is to confirm the president's identity, and it allows him to communicate with the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, which monitors worldwide nuclear threats and can order an instant response.

It provides the commander in chief with a simplified menu of nuclear strike options — allowing him to decide, for example, whether to destroy all of America's enemies in one fell swoop or to limit himself to obliterating only Moscow or Pyongyang or Beijing.

Privately, President John F. Kennedy believed that nuclear weapons were, as he put it,“only good for deterring.”

He also felt it was“insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilization.”

Horrified by the doctrine known as MAD (mutually assured destruction), JFK ordered locks to be placed on nuclear weapons and demanded alternatives to the“all or nothing” nuclear war plan.

A declassified Kennedy memo documents the concerns that led to the invention of the Football as a system for verifying the identity of the commander in chief. The president posed the following chilling, but commonsense, questions:

“What would I say to the Joint War Room to launch an immediate nuclear strike?”

“How would the person who received my instructions verify them?”

Since 1963, the Football has become a staple of presidential trips, and was even photographed in Red Square in May 1988, accompanying President Ronald Reagan on a state visit to the Soviet Union.

Reagan's Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, was accompanied by a military aide who was clutching a very similar device, known in Russian as the chemodanchik, or“little briefcase.”

For the Football to function as designed, the military aide must be nearby the commander in chief at all times and the president must be in possession of his authentication codes — this is known as the“Biscuit.”

According to the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, President Clinton mislaid his laminated code card for several months in 2000.

An even closer brush with disaster came during the attempted assassination of president Reagan in March 1981.

During the chaos that followed the shooting, the military aide was separated from the president, and did not accompany him to the George Washington University hospital.

In the moments before Reagan was wheeled into the operating theater, he was stripped of his clothes and other possessions.

The Biscuit was later found abandoned, unceremoniously dumped in a hospital plastic bag.

Then in November 2017, when President Trump was in Beijing having lunch with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a Chinese security official got into a tussle in another room with the aide carrying the Football.

Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly, a tall, imposing retired general, intervened and got into a“physical altercation” with the Chinese official, a former senior Trump administration official said.

When a senior US official spoke to Chinese officials about the incident at the scene, the Chinese wanted to extend an apology to Kelly — he refused.

“Tell them they can come apologize to me in Washington,” Kelly said.

Sources: Military.com, History Channel, Smithsonian, NBC News, AMNY.com, Business Insider

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