The Pentagon’s chief watchdog has launched a major review of security procedures involving the so-called “nuclear football,” the briefcase that contains launch codes for starting a nuclear war.
In a letter to federal officials made public Tuesday, the Defense Department inspector general said the probe will examine what protocols are in place in the event the nuclear football — formally known as the “presidential emergency satchel” — is misplaced or falls into the wrong hands.
“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,” the inspector general said in its letter. “This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event.”
The watchdog did not offer a specific reason for the probe, but a number of recent incidents have sparked questions about the security of the nation’s nuclear launch codes. On Jan. 6, for example, Capitol rioters came within about 100 feet of Vice President Mike Pence, who was accompanied by an aide with a backup briefcase.
The vice president traditionally is supplied with a backup version of the nuclear football that can be activated in the event the commander in chief is incapacitated.
In 2017, Chinese security officials reportedly blocked Secret Service agents carrying the nuclear football from accompanying then-President Trump into Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. The head of the Chinese security detail reportedly apologized to White House officials after the incident.
The current version of the nuclear football was established by President Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since then, it has been by the president’s side virtually at all times.