In France, the nuclear briefcase does not exist officially. A black briefcase called the "mobile base" follows the president in all his trips, but it is not specifically devoted to nuclear force.
Russia's "nuclear briefcase" is code-named Cheget. It "supports communication between senior government officials while they are making the decision whether to use nuclear weapons, and in its own turn is plugged into the special communication system Kazbek, which embraces all the individuals and agencies involved in command and control of the Strategic Nuclear Forces." It is usually assumed, although not known with certainty, that the nuclear briefcases are also issued to the Minister of Defense and the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Federation.
There are four things in the Football. The Black Book containing the retaliatory options, a book listing classified site locations, a manila folder with eight or ten pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Broadcast System, and a three-by-five-inch [7.5 × 13 cm] card with authentication codes. The Black Book was about 9 by 12 inches [23 × 30 cm] and had 75 loose-leaf pages printed in black and red. The book with classified site locations was about the same size as the Black Book, and was black. It contained information on sites around the country where the president could be taken in an emergency.
According to a 2005 Washington Post article, the president is always accompanied by a military aide carrying a "football" with launch codes for nuclear weapons. A separate 2005 article described the football as a metal Zero Halliburton briefcase. Another 2005 article described the football as a leather briefcase weighing about 45 pounds, and included a photo of an aide carrying such a case. A small antenna protrudes from the bag near the handle, suggesting that it also contains communications equipment of some kind.
If the president (who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces) decides to order the use of nuclear weapons, they would be taken aside by the "carrier" and the briefcase would be opened. A command signal, or "watch" alert, would then be issued to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president would then review the attack options with the secretary of defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and decide on a plan, which could range from a single cruise missile to multiple ICBM launches. These are preset war plans developed under OPLAN 8010 (formerly the Single Integrated Operational Plan). Then, using Milstar, the aide, a military officer, would contact the National Military Command Center and NORAD to determine the scope of the pre-emptive nuclear strike and prepare a second strike, following which Milstar/Advanced Extremely High Frequency or Boeing E-4Bs and TACAMOs would air the currently valid nuclear launch code to all operational nuclear delivery systems. Where a two-person verification procedure would be executed following this, the codes would be entered in a Permissive Action Link.
Before the order can be processed by the military, the president must be positively identified using a special code issued on a plastic card, nicknamed the "biscuit". The United States has a two-man rule in place at nuclear launch facilities, and while only the president can order the release of nuclear weapons, the order must be verified by the secretary of defense to be an authentic order given by the president (there is a hierarchy of succession in the event that the president is killed in an attack). This verification process deals solely with verifying that the order came from the actual president. The secretary of defense has no veto power and must comply with the president's order. Once all the codes have been verified, the President "may direct the use of nuclear weapons through an execute order via the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the combatant commanders, and, ultimately, to the forces in the field exercising direct control of the weapons." These orders are given and then re-verified for authenticity.
It is argued that the president has almost sole authority to initiate a nuclear attack because the Secretary of Defense is required to verify the order, but cannot veto it. However, the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief is not unlimited and US law dictates that the attack must be lawful and that military officers are required to refuse to execute unlawful orders, such as those that violate the Laws of Armed Conflict. Therefore, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other servicemembers in the chain of command must refuse to issue the execute order if such an order would be unlawful. Several military officials, including Gen. Hyten, have testified to Congress that they would refuse to carry out an unlawful order for a nuclear strike. If the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were to refuse to issue the execute order as directed by the President, the President could reassign or fire the Chairman and appoint a replacement, including waiving the required credentials if all other qualified officers refused the appointment or the President determines that it is in the national interest. Further, off-the-shelf strike packages are pre-vetted by lawyers to confirm that they are legal and, thus, such a strike would be presumed to be a lawful order. Further, military service members have been reprimanded for questioning, notably Major Harold Hering, who was discharged from the Air Force in late 1973 for asking the question "How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?"
The football is carried by one of the rotating presidential military aides, whose work schedule is described by a top-secret rota (one from each of the six service branches). This person is a commissioned officer in the U.S. military, pay-grade O-4 or above, who has undergone the nation's most rigorous background check (Yankee White). These officers are required to keep the football readily accessible to the president at all times. Consequently, the aide, football in hand, is always either standing or walking near the president, including riding on Air Force One, Marine One, or the presidential motorcade with the president.
There are three nuclear footballs in total; two are allocated to the president and vice president, with the last being stored in the White House. The practice to also provide an aide with a football to the Vice President, to whom command authority would devolve if the President is disabled, began with the Carter administration. In presidential transitions, the president-elect does not receive the actual nuclear code card until after the nuclear briefing, when normally "he meets with the outgoing president at the White House just before the actual inauguration ceremony. The code card is activated electronically right after the president-elect takes the oath at noon".
In the event that the outgoing president is not present at the inauguration – as happened in 2021 when Donald Trump did not attend the inauguration of Joe Biden but stayed in Florida – he or she keeps one football, which remains active until 11:59:59 AM on inauguration day. After that point, the now-former president is denied access to the football and the codes are automatically deactivated. The aide carrying this football returns to Washington DC. In the meantime, the incoming president will receive one of the spare footballs at the pre-inauguration nuclear briefing as well as a "biscuit" with codes that would become active at 12:00:00.
Briefcases in fiction
- The Dead Zone (1983);
- Johnny Smith, while shaking the hand of Greg Stillson — a candidate for the post of the United States senator — during an electoral meeting, in the prophetic vision of Stilson, became president of the United States, launching a nuclear attack against Russia, scanning the palm personally on a computer terminal to validate the launching of missiles;
- Fictional President of the United States Walter Emerson uses his nuclear briefcase in this movie to authorize a nuclear attack on the city of Baghdad.
- A group of rogue veterans turned terrorists manages to steal the briefcase.
- 24 Terrorists get their hands on the nuclear briefcase and steal a page from the playbook containing activation codes and locations for warheads. (2005)
- Swing Vote (2008);
- The incumbent president attempts to impress a key voter by letting him hold the nuclear football.
- Salt (2010);
- Near the end of the film, the President of the United States reacts to Russia's threatening nuclear posture after the death of the Russian President at the apparent hands of an American agent by deploying the briefcase and authenticating his identity, and shortly after a Soviet sleeper agent kills his security detail and uses the briefcase to issue nuclear attack orders.
- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
- G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
- White House Down (2013)
- Scorpion S1E15 (2015); A team must return a "football" stolen sixteen years earlier in the course of surgical operation. The pirates had already tried to launch a strike using an American nuclear silo based in Iceland, but they failed.
- The Fate of the Furious (2017)
- Langelot et la Clef de la guerre, a children's spy novel by Vladimir Volkoff.
- The key commanding the firing of nuclear missiles is stolen from the President of France.
- Letters of last resort – (United Kingdom)
- Le mystère des codes nucléaires
- Comment transmet-on le code des armes nucléaires?
- "SUITCASE NUCLEAR DEVICES". www.prop1.org. Retrieved 2019-04-07.
- "So According to This BBC Video, Imran Khan Carries the Codes to Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons Around in His Briefcase?!". 11 April 2019.
- Adventures of the "Nuclear Briefcase": A Russian Document Analysis Archived 2014-07-28 at the Wayback Machine, Strategic Insights, Volume III, Issue 9 (September 2004), by Mikhail Tsypkin
- A 2nd Briefcase for Putin By Alexander Golts, Moscow Times, 20 May 2008
- Gulley, Bill (1980). Breaking Cover. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671245481.
- Applewhite, J. Scott (2005-05-05). "Military aides still carry the president's nuclear 'football'". USA Today. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Eggen, Dan. "Cheney, Biden Spar In TV Appearances" Archived March 3, 2017, at the Wayback Machine. The Washington Post, December 22, 2008. Accessed December 16, 2009.
- Warchol, Glen (June 5, 2005). "Security: Sleek, sexy and oh, so safe / Utah company's attaché case is a Hollywood staple". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015.
- Merrill, Dave; Syeed, Nafeesa; Harris, Brittany (September 7, 2016). "To Launch a Nuclear Strike, President Trump Would Take These Steps". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on June 17, 2020. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
- Hacking Nuclear Command and Control, International Commission on Nuclear Non proliferation and Disarmament Archived September 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, p. 10.
- "Nuclear Operations," U.S. Air Force Doctrine Publication 3-72 (last updated 18 Dec. 2020).
- Beauchamp, Zack (August 3, 2016). "If President Trump decided to use nukes, he could do it easily". Vox. Archived from the original on February 11, 2018. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
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- Broad, William J. (August 4, 2016). "Debate Over Trump's Fitness Raises Issue of Checks on Nuclear Power". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 7, 2017. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
- "18 U.S. Code § 2441 - War crimes". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
- "Can US generals say 'no' to Trump if he orders a nuclear strike?". BBC News. 2017-11-26. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
- "10 U.S. Code § 152 - Chairman: appointment; grade and rank". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
- "Analysis | There was no legal way to stop Trump from ordering a nuclear strike if he wanted to, expert says". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
- Rosenbaum, Ron (February 28, 2011). "An Unsung Hero of the Nuclear Age – Maj. Harold Hering and the forbidden question that cost him his career". Slate. Archived from the original on October 14, 2011. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- "The Football" Archived April 15, 2005, at the Wayback Machine – GlobalSecurity.org article
- Stephen P. Williams (March 2004). How to Be President. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811843165.
- Stuart, Jeffries (22 August 2016). "The 'nuclear football' - the deadly briefcase that never leaves the president's side". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 7, 2020. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
- Kaplan, Fred (2021-02-11). "How Close Did the Capitol Rioters Get to the Nuclear "Football"?". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
- Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin, Donald Trump Is Getting the Nuclear Football, NBC, Jan. 20, 2017 Archived November 11, 2020, at the Wayback Machine.
- Cohen, Zachary (January 19, 2021). "How Trump will hand off the 'nuclear football' to Biden". CNN. Archived from the original on January 19, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
- Shattered Shield. Cold-War Doctrines Refuse to Die By David Hoffman, Washington Post, March 15, 1998