How safe is the US President’s “nuclear football”? Pentagon watchdog to find out

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A military aide wears so-called nuclear football as he travels aboard the Marine One helicopter with US President Donald Trump to Florida from the White House in Washington, United States, May 8, 2019 . REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst / File Photo

WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) – The Pentagon watchdog said on Tuesday it would assess the security protocols surrounding the president’s “nuclear football” – containing the codes necessary for a strike – after one of those briefcases was almost came within range of rioters storming the Capitol on January 1. 6.

In a brief notice, the inspector general’s office said it would assess how well Pentagon officials could detect and respond if the presidential emergency satchel was “lost, stolen or compromised.”

“We can revise the target as the assessment progresses,” he said.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said concerns about the Jan.6 siege helped trigger the assessment. On that date, Vice President Mike Pence was at the United States Capitol, accompanied by a military aide carrying a nuclear emergency soccer ball when the building was stormed by supporters of the then President. , Donald Trump.

The satchel contains the codes the president would use to authenticate a nuclear missile launch order if he was not in the White House.

Security footage released during Trump’s subsequent impeachment trial showed Pence and the military aide – who had the satchel – being brought to safety as the protesters moved closer to their location.

“At no time was this compromised,” said a source familiar with the matter.

Even if rioters had taken possession of the satchel, any nuclear strike order would still have had to be confirmed and dealt with by the military.

But January 6 was just one of many times during Trump’s presidency that the safety of nuclear football has been called into question.

In November 2017, while Trump was in Beijing having lunch with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a Chinese security official argued in another room with the US military aid carrying the briefcase.

John Kelly, then White House Chief of Staff, an imposing retired grand general, intervened and had a physical altercation with the Chinese official to ensure that nuclear football did not escape the public eye. military aid, a former senior Trump administration official said.

When a senior US official spoke to Chinese officials about the incident at the scene, the Chinese wanted to apologize to Kelly for the episode. But Kelly refused to accept the apology, the official said.

“Tell them they can come and apologize to me in Washington,” Kelly said, according to the official.

On January 20 of this year, Trump insisted on leaving Washington before Democrat Joe Biden was inaugurated, meaning a live soccer ball should accompany him until Biden is sworn in.

Trump was accompanied by a military aide carrying a nuclear soccer ball to Palm Beach, Florida, and kept it near him until Trump was no longer president, a source familiar with the situation said.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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