Pentagon watchdog to review security of ‘nuclear football’
The Pentagon’s inspector general will review whether the department has plans to respond in the event the so-called “nuclear football,” the briefcase that holds nuclear launch codes and other sensitive equipment, is compromised.
The review of Department of Defense (DOD) safeguards for what’s officially known as the Presidential Emergency Satchel was announced in a memo released Tuesday by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
“The objective of this evaluation is to determine the extent that DoD processes and procedures are in place and adequate to alert DoD officials in the event that the Presidential Emergency Satchel is lost, stolen or compromised,” the inspector general’s office wrote in the memo.
“This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event,” the memo added.
The review comes after Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s national security subcommittee, and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee in March asked the inspector general to look into the issue following several incidents with either the football, which is always kept near the president, or the backup football, which follows the vice president.
During the Senate’s February impeachment trial of former President Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, House impeachment managers showed footage of rioters coming within 100 feet of then-Vice President Pence while he, his family, Secret Service agents and the military aide carrying the backup football ran to safety.
Rioters would not have been able to use the information even if they had gotten ahold of the football because of security controls in the system and because the backup only functions when the president is incapacitated. But they would have had sensitive technology in their hands.
In addition to the Capitol attack, the security of the football was called into question during an incident during Trump’s 2017 trip to Beijing.
During the trip, a scuffle broke out when Chinese officials attempted to bar the military aide carrying the briefcase from entering the auditorium where Trump was set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The skirmish quickly ended, and the football was never compromised, but the incident still raised questions about the physical security of the briefcase.
“It is imperative that we fully understand the processes and procedures that are in place to protect the Presidential Emergency Satchel—especially when its custodians might be in danger—and we applaud the DOD OIG for accepting our request to initiate this evaluation,” Lynch and Cooper said in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to reviewing their findings once the report is completed.”