The Gold Codes are the launch codes for nuclear weapons provided to the President of the United States in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces. In conjunction with the nuclear football, the Gold Codes allow the president to authorize a nuclear attack. Gold Codes, as well as a separate nuclear football, are also assigned to the Vice President in case the president is incapacitated or otherwise unable to discharge the duties of office pursuant to the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Gold Codes are arranged in a column and printed on a plastic card, nicknamed "the biscuit".
The card is similar to a credit card, and the president carries it on his or her person. Before it can be read, an opaque plastic covering must be snapped in two and removed.
Gold Codes are generated daily and provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) to the White House, The Pentagon, United States Strategic Command, and TACAMO. For an extra level of security, the list of codes on the card includes codes which have no meaning, and therefore the president must memorize where on the list the correct code is located. The concept behind the codes is that they permit the president to positively identify himself as the commander-in-chief and thereby authenticate a launch order to the National Military Command Center (NMCC).
Should the president decide to order the launch of nuclear weapons, they would be taken aside by the "carrier" of the nuclear football and the briefcase opened. Once opened, the president would decide which "Attack Option", which are the specific orders for attacks on specific targets, to use. The Attack Options are contained in the Single Integrated Operation Plan and include Major Attack Options (MAOs), Selected Attack Options (SAOs), and Limited Attack Options (LAOs). The chosen attack option and the Gold Codes would then be transmitted to the NMCC via a special, secure channel. As commander-in-chief, the president is the only individual with the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, however, the two-man rule still applies. The National Command Authority comprising the president and Secretary of Defense must jointly authenticate the order to use nuclear weapons to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The order would then be transmitted over a tan-yellow phone, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, otherwise known as the "Gold Phone", that directly links the NMCC with United States Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
Other items in the football include plans for continuity of government, and letters the president signs delegating authority to the vice president should that need to happen. The satchel also includes a secure satellite phone and is always near the president, carried by a uniformed, armed military officer of the O-4 pay grade or above (Major in the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps or Lieutenant Commander in the Navy or Coast Guard). All U.S. nuclear weapons are subject to the same stringent command and control protocols, including land-based ICBMs, nuclear weapons carried by B-52 and B-2 aircraft, and Trident missiles carried by U.S. Navy submarines.
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