Gold Codes

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The Gold Codes are the launch codes for nuclear weapons provided to the Presidents of the United States in their role as Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces.[1] In conjunction with the nuclear football, the Gold Codes allow the president to authorize a nuclear attack.[2] 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 to the United States Constitution.[3][4] Gold Codes are arranged in a column and printed on a plastic card, nicknamed "the biscuit".[5]

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.[6]

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 that 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 themself as the commander-in-chief and thereby authenticate a launch order to the National Military Command Center (NMCC).[7][8]


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.[3] Once opened, the president would decide which "attack options" (specific orders for attacks on specific targets) to use. The attack options are preset war plans developed under OPLAN 8010, 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.

Stephen Schwartz, an independent nuclear policy consultant, explained in 2018: "Once [the president's] identity is verified, he gives the order and it is transmitted down the chain of command. The chain of command goes from the president through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then, if we’re using long-range weapons, down through the Strategic Command, then the order is relayed to our forces in the field. It always happens extremely quickly."[9]

As commander-in-chief, the president is the only individual with the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.[10] A two-man rule applies, however: 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.[disputed ][6] It is argued by Franklin Miller that the president has almost single authority to initiate a nuclear attack since the Secretary of Defense is required to verify the order, but cannot legally veto it.[11] However, Section 4 of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution allows for the vice president, together with a majority of cabinet heads or Congress, to declare the president disabled or unfit to execute the duties of the office.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Nuclear Football". Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  2. ^ "Transcript: Vice President Cheney on 'FOX News Sunday'". Fox News Network, LLC. December 22, 2008. Archived from the original on April 20, 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Military aides still carry the president's nuclear 'football'". USA Today. Associated Press. May 5, 2005. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  4. ^ The Football. Archived July 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Brookings Institution
  5. ^ Donvan, John (October 20, 2010). "President Bill Clinton Lost Nuclear Codes While in Office, New Book Claims". ABC News. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Ambinder, Marc (July 10, 2013). "2 White House movie tropes that don't make sense". The Week. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  7. ^ "US nuclear codes: key terms explained". The Daily Telegraph. October 21, 2010. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  8. ^ Ambinder, Marc (October 22, 2010). "Why Clinton's Losing the Nuclear Biscuit Was Really, Really Bad". The Atlantic. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  9. ^ Cook, Jesselyn (January 4, 2018). "Can Anyone Prevent Trump From Ordering A Nuclear Strike? Not Really". HuffPost. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  10. ^ Presidential Authority and Nuclear Weapons: Taking Back Our Rights. University of Pennsylvania Law School.
  11. ^ Broad, William J.; Sanger, David E. (August 5, 2016). "Debate Over Trump's Fitness Raises Issue of Checks on Nuclear Power". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  12. ^ Smith, Allan (September 20, 2016). "Global security expert: Yes, a president can unilaterally decide to launch a nuclear weapon". Business Insider. Retrieved September 23, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Finnis, John, Joseph Boyle, and Germain Grisez. "Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism" (1988).
  • Hansen, Chuck. "U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History" (1988).
  • Jeutner, Valentin. "Irresolvable Norm Conflicts in International Law: The Concept of a Legal Dilemma" (2017).
  • Williams, Stephen P. "How to be President: What to Do and where to Go Once You're in Office" (2004).

External links[edit]