Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Nuclear Football

Okay, am I the only idiot in America that didn't know what a Nuclear Football was until today? Please don't answer that!...

Intently watching all the Inauguration festivities on MSNBC today, one of the commentators made a comment about the "nuclear football" in the Obama motorcade. Being the ever inquisitive individual, I Googled "nuclear football" is this is what I found. According to Wikipedia:

The Nuclear Football (also called the Atomic Football, President's Emergency Satchel, The Button, The Red Button, The Black Box or just The Football) is a specially outfitted black briefcase used by the President of the United States of America to authorize the use of nuclear weapons. Adopted to permit the president to make a nuclear-attack order while away from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room, it functions as a mobile hub in the strategic defense system of the United States. While exact details about the football are highly classified, several sources have provided information about the bag, its contents, and its operation.

According to Global Security:
It [the nuclear football] follows the President where ever he goes and is never more that a few steps from his side. It is carried by a military officer who must undergo the nation's most rigorous security background check - the "Yankee White". It contains a secure SATCOM radio and handset, the nuclear launch codes known as the "Gold Codes" and the President's Decision Book - the nuclear playbook that the President would rely on if he would ever have to decide to use nuclear weapons. Its real name is unknown but it is popularly known as "the football".

Okay, so now I really feel like an idiot. I guess you really do learn something new every day!


Shadows of the goddess designs said...

never knew there was such a thing. Rather scary actually..

Anonymous said...

Not scary at all really, a credible and credibly managed nucelar deterrent helps to keep things sane. Actually the President's Emergency Satchel (its official name) is a modified Halliburton "Zero" aluminum case fitted with a black leather cover.

The case contains a secure SAT phone, the SIOP (you can google this), and other documents relating to Presidential transfer of power. The President's personal authentication codes ("Gold Codes") are printed on a card encased in a plastic sheath which is nicknamed the 'biscuit', typically carried on his person. They are used to authenticate the President's identity to the National Military Command Center (and other appropriate elements in the nuclear chain of command). He does not use the case to actually 'launch' a strike.

Even if a somehow deranged or disloyal President were to break open the "biscuit" and read the codes (the "Gold Codes" are a sequence of letters and numbers) to someone (over the phone, let's say) the information would be useless. The codes are actually in place to personally and positively identify POTUS when he needs to transmit release orders (in his role as the National Command Authority). The communication must occur via a special hyper secure channel and even then the two-man rule applies as well; the National Command Authority comprising the President and Secretary of Defense must jointly issue the order to use nuclear weapons to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

You just don't call the NMCC with a cell phone and read the codes to the officer on duty and say "OK dude ! Nuke North Korea!"

In the event the NCA decides to order a nuclear strike, he would have to transmit not only the codes but also the "Attack Options" which are the specific orders for attacks on specific targets. 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).

Even if the codes were compromised, the National Security Agency, which is responsible for producing the codes that change every day, has procedures in place to address the contingency.

One more thing, it isn't just land based ICBM's which are controlled this way. All US nuclear weapons are subject to the same stringent command and control including nuclear weapons carried by B-52 and B-2 aircraft, and Trident missiles carried by US Navy submarines.

Bobbi said...

Cool! Thanks for the info!

Liz said...

No worries... I didn't know what in the heck it was either LOL!

Anonymous said...

Your comment about the existence of the nuclear football seems to support the idea that you don't know much about this country, its role in the world, and the power it has used for many years to maintain peace, freedom and democracy....yu would have know about the nuclear football. Or maybe you choose to be ignorant as you look over the rainbow for the "perfect" world.