Friday, October 21, 2011

The Nuclear Football: America's Nuclear Suitcase

All-out nuclear warfare is probably one of the most controversial topics since the cold war. Other than creating awesome post-apocalyptic scenarios, it's a very true, very serious topic. We all know that the United States is one of the world's super powers due to the fact that America was the first nation to create weapons capable of devastating entire cities at a time. But with any weapon, there needs to be someone behind the trigger. It's not like we'll put the power to end the world into the hands of a sentient intelligence.

I don't know about you guys, but I totally trust that face.

Since war isn't exactly something planned like a special graduation reunion, the president might not always have enough time to fly to a fixed command center in order to sit around in dimly lit rooms full of handsome, brilliant scientists and psychopathic military advisers. In order to solve this problem, the nuclear football, the atomic football, the president's emergency satchel, the button, or the black box was created to solve this problem. Now, the president can launch our nuclear warheads on vacation in Hawaii.

"The airport got the suitcases mixed up, again."

In all seriousness though, this "black box" was a mobile hub in the defense system of the United States of America. This "button" commonly depicted as a big shiny red button in the bottom of the president's desk is the "Nuclear Football".

The case itself is a modified Zero Halliburton briefcase carried in a handsome black leather jacket. The package weighs about 45 pounds and contains all the information needed to authorize a nuclear strike on other countries. Inside, was the Black Book, a manila folder, a three-by-five inch card, and a second "black" book.

They went all out on this baby.

The Black Book itself contained retaliatory options which can allow the president to pick the best suiting counter-attack with the scenario on hand. The second black book contained classified locations around the country where the president could be taken in emergencies. The manila folder contains eight to ten pages stapled together, giving directions for the emergency broadcast system. The three-by-five card contains the authentication codes that are necessary to launch the nuclear weapons.

If the president decides to use the football, he would be taken privately aside by the military officer, and the briefcase would be opened. After that, a "watch" alert would be issued to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Along with the aide, the president would review the attack options to decide on a military attack ranging from a single nuclear warhead, to multiple ICBMs. It is relatively unknown what means of communication it uses to contact the missile silos, which is probably a good thing; you don't want random people tapping into highly encrypted government lines by accident.

"Darn it."

However, since the United States has a special two man rule, two specific people are required to issue the attack orders. The president can order the nuclear attack, while the Secretary of Defense must confirm the strike in order for the command to take place. Once the authentication codes are submitted and the Secretary of Defense confirms the strike, the orders would be given and re-verified. You don't want to start the apocalypse by accident!

These whimsical suitcases are carried by rotating military aides, one from each of the five military branches. But the suitcase isn't always carried by hand, sometimes, the suitcases are physically attached to the military officer with a commissioned military officer with a pay grade equal if not greater to a Lieutenant Colonel or "Commander". These armed officers are required to keep the suitcase near the president at all times. Regardless if the president is riding in a presidential motorcade or riding on Air Force One, the "football" must be readily accessible to the president at all times.

Only three of these suitcases are known to exist. The first one is always carried with the President, the second is kept at the White House as a spare, and the third is with the Vice President.

It's like a spare wrench, without the nuclear holocaust stuff.

But everything wasn't bells and whistles; during their presidencies, both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan preferred to keep the nuclear launch codes within hand's reach, inside of their jacket pocket. While it was practical, it became like a fancy trinket that could start World War 3. One time, Jimmy Carter left the codes in his suit when he sent it to the dry cleaners. After an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan on 1981, Reagan was separated from the codes when his clothes were cut off by the emergency room staff. The codes were later discovered lying round in one of his shoes on the ground, unattended.

During history, six different presidents left his military aide carrying the football behind. These presidents include Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. The most recent one was on April 24, 1999 when president Clinton left a NATO meeting in such a rush, he left his military aide behind. The poor fellow probably ended up sitting around alone, with one of the most dangerous piece of luggage in the world chained to his wrists, wondering when the president was going to finish using the bathroom. The aide eventually ended up walking a half-mile back to the White House from where the meeting was held.

"I believe you guys forgot something."

Thankfully, the contents of the suitcases has yet to be breached despite the presidential mishaps. Although, you would think that a suitcase capable of electronically activating America's nuclear warheads would be more carefully secured.