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. 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 25th 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 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 himself as the commander-in-chief and thereby authenticate a launch order to the National Military Command Center (NMCC).
In a 30 March 2012 public interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski explained that after learning of what was later a false alarm regarding a potential nuclear attack, he had three minutes to determine if he should inform the President of the United States. The President would then have a time period of four minutes to decide what to do next. Foreign Policy magazine reported on this in a 5 August 2016 article: "he recalled having only three minutes to decide whether or not to inform the president, after which the president had four minutes to decide whether or not to retaliate."
Should the president decide to order the launch of nuclear weapons, he or she would be taken aside by the "carrier" of the nuclear football and the briefcase opened. 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. As commander-in-chief, the president is the only individual with the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Other items in the football include plans for continuity of government. 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 American nuclear weapons are subject to the same protocols, including land-based Minuteman III ICBMs, nuclear weapons carried by B-52 and B-2 aircraft, and Trident missiles carried by U.S. Navy submarines.
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