Pentagon finds safe solution for nuclear suitcases

Under former President Trump, the US nuclear suitcase has repeatedly fallen into unsafe situations, the most serious of which was the one that nearly fell into the hands of the Capitol riot group on January 6 this year.

The nuclear suitcase closely followed former President Trump during his visit to Vietnam in early 2019, attending the US-North Korea Summit. Photo: AP
The nuclear suitcase closely followed former President Trump during his visit to Vietnam in early 2019, attending the US-North Korea Summit. Photo: AP

According to CNN, the Pentagon's watchdog said on July 20 that it would evaluate the safety protocols around the president's "nuclear briefcase" - the mysterious device containing the codes needed for an attack. nuclear strike - after one such briefcase nearly fell into the hands of rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6.

In a brief statement, the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General said it would assess the extent to which Pentagon officials could detect and respond if the "Presidential Emergency Pair" was "lost". , stolen or compromised". "We may make changes after conducting an assessment," the announcement said.

Concerns related to the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riots have prompted a re-evaluation of the safety solution for the "nuclear suitcase" (or nuclear pair), said a US official, who asked not to be named. On that day, Vice President Mike Pence was at the Capitol with a military aide carrying a spare nuclear suitcase, when the building was rioted by a crowd of supporters of then-President Donald Trump. . This suitcase contains codes that the President of the United States (or the Vice President in case the President is in a state of inability to perform his role) will use to authenticate the order to launch a nuclear missile if he is not present. The White House.

Security camera footage made public during the subsequent impeachment trial aimed at former President Trump shows Mr Pence and the aide - who holds the bag - being taken to safety as protesters move closer. their position.

"When the rioters reached the top of the stairs, they were within a 30-meter radius of where the Vice President was sheltering with his family, and they were only a short distance away," Congressman Stacey Plaskett said at Trump's impeachment hearing one of the doors leads into this room a few feet away." In a video reviewed in court, loud shouts of "Hang up Mike Pence" could be heard as rioters stood in front of an open door in the Capitol.

Nuclear suitcases began to appear during the tenure of former US President John Kennedy. This suitcase comes with a nuclear activation code so that the incumbent President of the United States can access in an emergency no matter where, at any time.

Former President Kennedy (left) and his aide carry the first nuclear suitcase.
Former President Kennedy (left) and his aide carry the first nuclear suitcase.

The small suitcase was covered by a black leather briefcase that looked very fashionable, but inside was a control system for the US nuclear missiles. The suitcase weighs about 20 kg, has dimensions of 45x35x25 cm, is made of titanium alloy to help protect the equipment inside safely in the most adverse conditions.

"Nuclear suitcase" is always kept near the US President. There is also a spare suitcase that always stands by the vice president in case the president is unable to carry out his nuclear launch responsibilities. In addition to the equipment, the suitcase also contains decision-making documents that the president or vice president would need to authenticate orders to launch a nuclear attack.

"No such assessment has ever been done before," Stephen Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, told CNN. A violent domestic riot was almost certainly not in the Defense and Secret Service threats scenario until the event six months ago, and that is the only known event that recently placed suitcases nuclear at significant potential risk, leading to this level of concern.”

A "retired" nuclear suitcase on display at the Museum of American History. Photo: Guardian
A "retired" nuclear suitcase on display at the Museum of American History. Photo: Guardian

Even if the rioters took control of the suitcase, any order to launch a nuclear strike would still need to be confirmed and handled by the military, according to US officials.

However, the January 6 incident is just one of many times the safety of the nuclear suitcase has been called into question during Trump's presidency. In November 2017, while Trump was in Beijing having lunch with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in another room, a Chinese security official clashed with a US military aide carrying a suitcase.

The White House chief of staff at the time was John Kelly, a tall, imposing retired general who intervened "physically" with the Chinese official to make sure the nuclear briefcase did not separate from the military aide. This is a revelation from a former senior official in the Trump administration. "Tell them they can come apologize to me in Washington," Kelly said after the incident, the source said.

An aide carrying a "nuclear pair" steps aboard Marine One helicopter with former President Donald Trump before flying from the White House to Florida on May 8, 2019. Photo: Reuters
An aide carrying a "nuclear pair" steps aboard Marine One helicopter with former President Donald Trump before flying from the White House to Florida on May 8, 2019. Photo: Reuters

On January 20 of this year, Mr. Trump insisted on leaving Washington before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, meaning that the nuclear suitcase would have to be with him until his successor Biden was sworn in. Mr. Trump was accompanied by a military aide who brought the nuclear briefcase to Palm Beach, Florida, and kept it near him until the billionaire was no longer president.

According to CNN, Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee on the House Oversight and Reform Committee Stephen Lynch and Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee on the House Armed Services Committee Jim Cooper welcomed the decision of the Office of the Attorney General. Department of Defense inspectors in evaluating safety procedures with nuclear suitcases following what happened on January 6. In a joint statement, the two said: "The riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 is not only an unprecedented attack on our democracy but also puts our national security at risk. According to public reports, when Vice President Pence rushed to safety with a military aide carrying an Emergency Briefcase, or "nuclear briefcase," officials Little did the Pentagon know that the suitcase could potentially fall into the hands of a lawless mob within seconds."

While the nuclear suitcase was not harmed in either incident, it has raised questions about whether the procedures involved in this device are effective and safe.

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