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President’s ‘nuclear football’ security under review after being close to Jan. 6 Capitol stormers

A military aide carries the nuclear football. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
July 21, 2021

On Tuesday, the Inspector General for the Department of Defense announced a new review of the security procedures for the Presidential Emergency Satchel, known as the “nuclear football,” and contains the president’s emergency nuclear strike instructions. The review comes six months after the nuclear football accompanied then-Vice President Mike Pence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 during the storming.

“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 DoD inspector general announced. “This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event. We may revise the objective as the evaluation proceeds, and we will also consider suggestions from management for additional or revised objectives.”

The inspector general announced the security review began this month and did not specify a timeframe for when the review would be completed.

The brief inspector general statement did not provide a reason for the new review, but the Associated Press reported questions about the security of the “nuclear football” arose after demonstrators entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, clashed with Capitol police and disrupted a joint session of Congress as Pence was in attendance.

Democrat Reps. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Jim Cooper of Tennessee were among the lawmakers who called on the DoD inspector general to review the security matter. Lynch and Cooper previously issued a joint statement, asking whether the Pentagon knew whether Pence’s “nuclear football” was potentially in danger of being stolen by demonstrators who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for U.S. strategic deterrence and nuclear operations, was reportedly unaware that Vice President Pence, his military aide, and the nuclear football were all potentially in danger and only came to understand the gravity of the incident several weeks later when security camera footage was played as a video exhibit during the Senate impeachment trial,” Lynch and Cooper wrote in March, the Associated Press reported.

Responding to the DoD inspector general’s announcement, Lynch and Cooper issued another statement, saying “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 (inspector general) for accepting our request to initiate this evaluation.”

The Jan. 6 incident may not be the first time a “nuclear football” came under the potential threat of being stolen. In February 2018, Axios reported, based on accounts from five unnamed sources, that a Chinese security official tried to stop an aide to then-President Donald Trump as he was carrying the “nuclear football” during Trump’s visit to Beijing in November 2017. The incident reportedly saw a scuffle between the Trump aide and the Chinese security official before U.S. Secret Service agents intervened and one tackled the Chinese official to the ground.