A nuclear briefcase is a specially outfitted briefcase used to authorize the use of nuclear weapons and is usually kept nearby the leader of a nuclear weapons state at all times.
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.
According to a Washington Post article, the president is always accompanied by a military aide carrying a "football" with launch codes for nuclear weapons. The football is a metal Zero Halliburton briefcase carried in a black leather "jacket". The package weighs around 45 pounds (20 kilograms).
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 Alert 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.
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 commander-in-chief of the armed forces) ordered the use of nuclear weapons, he 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 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, a Yankee White 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 nuclear delivery systems operational. 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 the 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 military would issue attack orders to the proper units. These orders are given and then re-verified for authenticity. It is argued 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.
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 five 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.
Journalist Ron Rosenbaum has pointed out that the operational plan for nuclear strike orders is entirely concerned with the identity of the commanding officer and the authenticity of the order, and there are no safeguards to verify that the person issuing the order is actually sane. Notably, Major Harold Hering 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?" under Richard Nixon.
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.
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;
- Swing Vote (2008);
- The incumbent president attempts to impress a key voter by letting him hold the nuclear football.
- Deterrence (1999);
- 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.
- Salt (2010);
- in the end of the film, the president of the United States reacts to a war threat with Russia by speeding up the force of nuclear weapon, but the system is taken in hostage by a Russian mole infiltrated within the CIA;
- A team must return to "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)
- Letters of last resort – (United Kingdom)
- 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
- Eggen, Dan. "Cheney, Biden Spar In TV Appearances". 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.
- Associated Press. "Military aides still carry the president's nuclear 'football'". USA Today, May 5, 2005. Accessed December 16, 2009.
- Goodreads listing. Accessed October 16, 2018
- Hacking Nuclear Command and Control, p. 10.
- Beauchamp, Zack (August 3, 2016). "If President Trump decided to use nukes, he could do it easily". Vox. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
- Blair, Bruce (June 11, 2016). "What Exactly Would It Mean to Have Trump's Finger on the Nuclear Button?". Politico. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
- Broad, William J. (August 4, 2016). "Debate Over Trump's Fitness Raises Issue of Checks on Nuclear Power". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
- The Football – GlobalSecurity.org article
- Stephen P. Williams. How to be President. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811843165.
- Rosenbaum 2011
- 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. slate.com. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- Le mystère des codes nucléaires
- Comment transmet-on le code des armes nucléaires ?
- Langelot et la Clef de la guerre, a children spy novel by Vladimir Volkoff.
- The key commanding the firing of nuclear missiles is stolen from the President of France.
- Shattered Shield. Cold-War Doctrines Refuse to Die By David Hoffman, Washington Post, March 15, 1998