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  • launching nuclear weapons is undoubtedly the single most powerful authority that a president of the United States has.

  • Even scarier is that he or she can almost have no checks or balances on the strike.

  • But more on that later.

  • The mysterious black briefcase that's always within arm's reach of the president has mystified people for decades, has become a symbol of both the president's great responsibility and a symbol of a bygone era that some believe should be cast into the history books.

  • So what exactly is the nuclear football?

  • For starters, it's not shaped like a football at all the devices and all aluminum case that's placed inside a black leather bag.

  • The bag itself is carried by a military officer of at least 304 pay grade that serves as an aide to the president.

  • Indeed, the aid is always with the president whenever he's out of the White House.

  • No matter whether it's a trip to meet foreign dignitaries at high level conferences, fancy hotels or even just a trip to get a pizza, the military aid will be right by the president's side.

  • Just why the president's have a nuclear football in the first place actually arose during the Kennedy administration at the height of the Cold War.

  • During the Cuban missile crisis, where both the US and Russia were probably within days, if not hours of nuclear war, Kennedy realized that the situations in which nuclear weapons might be needed could develop so quickly that something that allowed the president access from anywhere in the world was needed.

  • Additionally, President Kennedy wanted a system whereby the proper command authorities and troops launching the actual missiles could verify the president's identity.

  • After all, one would not want an impostor giving false orders to annihilate the whole world.

  • Kennedy also wanted a way that he could quickly meet with his top command advisers to make the most informed decision possible.

  • Hence, the nuclear football was born.

  • Though the device has been around since the sixties, there are a great number of misconceptions about the device.

  • The first one is that there was only one of them.

  • In reality, there are actually three nuclear footballs.

  • The first one always stays with the president.

  • The second one is always with the vice president.

  • If the president becomes incapacitated, the last one is actually a spare that stays at the White House.

  • Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic red button that the president can press rain hellfire on anyone in the world.

  • Rather, it's a little more complicated than that.

  • If the president decides to launch nuclear weapons once he or she opens the briefcase, the president will be greeted with rather impressive communication equipment and official documentation.

  • When the president wants to give the order to strike, the first thing that will happen is the aid will take the president aside.

  • It helped lay out all the documentation for him or her.

  • After establishing secure communications with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military officers from each branch, the president will decide whether to meet in the situation room and continue the strike via secure telephone conference.

  • Once positive communications have been established with the command authority, the president must establish his or her identity.

  • The way this is done is through the so called biscuit.

  • The Biscuit is a small laminated index card that the president also carries on his body.

  • It's a response to the challenge posed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

  • It's typically a two letter response to a two letter challenge, for example, the challenge would be Delta Foxtrot, and response could be echo Bravo.

  • Those codes, which are classified to the highest level possible, must be correct, or the strike will not continue.

  • Since the president cannot verify his identity once the president's identity has been verified, the president will quickly discuss the situation and the possible response to it.

  • While certainly nuclear options will be on the table, the generals and admirals could convince the president to take another course of action if they cannot convince him to agree.

  • The order will continue through a series of secure, encrypted messages sent to the units responsible for the firing.

  • To decide what kind of response the president wants, there is a literal black book inside the briefcase.

  • This book contains a preplanned list of responses to a number of attacks.

  • The best way one former aide could describe this list was sort of like picking from a Denny's menu, where the president could assemble a nuclear attack by picking options from each column.

  • Also contained within the Black book is a super secret list of safe houses within the United States.

  • No matter where the president's traveling, he or she confined somewhere to hunker down while giving this command.

  • Once the encrypted orders have been sent out from the Pentagon, the firing units then received them and decrypt them for land based nuclear missiles.

  • Silo teams take the encoded, preplanned responses and compare them to the coded messages locked inside a safe at all times.

  • At least two people must be present when opening the safe and decoding the message.

  • After the messages decoded, it's put up to a vote by the silo team to fire the missiles.

  • Five keys must be turned simultaneously to fire the missiles, but only two of them must agree to fire for missiles based on a submarine.

  • The initial decoding is quite similar.

  • The order must be retrieved with at least two people, and the commanding officer, executive officer and two department heads must decode the message on Lee.

  • A unanimous vote amongst all four officers that the message is authentic and legal will allow the strike to continue.

  • Though this seems like a tremendous amount of power to be in one person's hands, and there could be no doubt that this is it's not the ultimate godlike authority that some people claim the president has in this matter.

  • The reason for this is because, despite what some people say, there are checks and balances in place, though not what they're used to for civilians.

  • The president serves as the commander in chief of the armed forces and as such, a civilian who controls military members are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the regulations of their respective services.

  • Though people would be correct in stating that there are no civilian checks and balances, since not even the vice president or secretary of defense get veto a legal launch order, there are balances within the military hierarchy.

  • The first ballots comes in the form of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

  • These senior officers are the most experienced and most capable officers that the entire military can muster.

  • These men and women have a combined service record of almost 200 years of experience and have been through countless tough in high stress situations.

  • With their combined experiences, these flag officers are the best suited to advise the president on options other than a nuclear strike.

  • However, if these officers cannot convince the president of any other option, they still cannot obey an unlawful order for in order to be lawful, it must be issued by a competent authority as well as be clear specific and have a valid military purpose.

  • If the order does not meet all of these criteria, it is not legal, and the officers will not notify the Pentagon to issue the messages to the firing units.

  • By doing this, inadvertent orders such as those from an angry, drunk or otherwise incapacitated president will not be obeyed.

  • If the president is simply feuding with another country, like getting roasted by North Korea on Twitter again, the Joint Chiefs of Staff will simply ignore it once the order has gotten past here.

  • There are no more checks and balances on the desire to launch nuclear weapons, but there are on actually firing them as mentioned earlier.

  • Both land based missile crews and submarine officers can veto the order to fire if they do not believe it's legal or authentic.

  • While these troops cannot deny based solely on the targets, the can deny launching the missiles if they do not believe it was actually the president who gave the order.

  • But despite the vast array of checks and balances.

  • There have been numerous times when the nuclear football has nearly been compromised.

  • The most famous example was during Reagan's attempted assassination.

  • After he was shot, he was quickly taken to the emergency room, and his military aid was left at the scene.

  • Once at the hospital, his clothes were cut off, as is standard procedure, and his belongings were emptied into plastic bags.

  • Among his belongings.

  • Inside his sock was the biscuit needed to authenticate the president's identity.

  • This crucial information, vital to national security, was unceremoniously left in the hallway.

  • President Clinton also left his biscuit behind when he was rushing to leave an international conference in Paris when he met Russian leader Khrushchev.

  • Nixon got separated from his nuclear football and he accidentally sped off in his car.

  • With his security team struggling to catch up, The United States had no nuclear option for about half an hour.

  • While these might seem understandable, probably the most egregious offenses came during President Carter's administration when he accidentally forgot his biscuit in his suit pocket that he sent to the dry cleaners.

  • Most recently, the nuclear football has once again become the subject of debate during President Trump's administration.

  • When he was diagnosed with a novel coronavirus, he was sent to the hospital with a military aid until, throughout his entire stay, he never once gave up his authority, as president has guaranteed in the 25th Amendment.

  • Rather, he kept his command, authority and even in quarantine while taking experimental drugs, he could have given the order to launch nuclear weapons.

  • It is for this reason that the debate of whether the nuclear football in today's day and age is even necessary after all, even during the Cold War, the chance that the Soviet Union would launch a surprise preemptive attack was negligible, since both sides knew that each other would just be wiped off the map.

  • Rather why the devices stuck around.

  • It's a physical reminder of just how much authority is really vested in the office of the president.

  • Some argue that the authority to launch nuclear weapons should only be a power vested in the collective minds of Congress.

  • While this argument makes sense on the surface, since Congress has the sole authority to declare war and launching nuclear weapons being the ultimate de facto declaration of war, there are a number of reasons that are still valid against this argument, firstly, is that Congress is a public forum debating whether to use nuclear weapons would alert other countries to what America wanted to dio.

  • Even during an emergency session of Congress, the news media would have a field day over this.

  • By doing so, adversary nations would get the crucial time required to preemptively strike and take out American nuclear arms before their hit.

  • The next reason why this would not be a good idea is a common theme in politics.

  • In that politics takes too long in quick, fast developing situations.

  • There might not be time to decide on what to dio.

  • Rather, at that moment, there could only be a knowledgeable, imbalanced man or woman who can decide whether or not to use the ultimate weapon.

  • Or so it's hoped.

  • Though this scenario might seem remote, it's still the only chance the United States has of defending itself in the diarist of situations.

launching nuclear weapons is undoubtedly the single most powerful authority that a president of the United States has.

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This is How the Nuclear Football Actually Works

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/12/19
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