Joe Biden's nuclear football: The most powerful briefcase in the world

10 July 2023, 14:17 | Updated: 10 July 2023, 14:23

A White House military aide carries the nuclear "football"
A White House military aide carries the nuclear "football". Picture: Getty
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Wherever Joe Biden goes a military aide is only ever a few feet away, carrying a briefcase with the ability to launch the US nuclear arsenal.

The American nuclear “football,” officially known as the Presidential Emergency Satchel, first came into use in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's understood President John F. Kennedy was worried about the security surrounding the launching of a nuclear weapon.

US security officials created a briefcase that would give the president the means to quickly receive information and authorise a nuclear strike.

The nuclear football is a leather-covered titanium business case that weighs 40 pounds. It is secured with a cipher lock and contains a variety of secure phone capabilities and written options for launching nuclear strikes that the president may authorize.

A U.S. Air Force military aide carry "The Football" off Air Force One
A U.S. Air Force military aide carry "The Football" off Air Force One. Picture: Getty

The president authenticates his identity with codes found on a small plastic card he carries with him. In case the president is incapacitated or has died, an identical nuclear football is assigned to the vice president.

In the event of a devastating threatened attack on the US, the president – or vice president as his backup – would confirm his identity to the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon over a secure phone by reading codes from the Sealed Authenticator System card – also known as the 'biscuit' – that he is supposed to carry with him at all times.

Military leaders and White House national security advisors would then brief the president or vice president on the nature of the threat and the options for retaliating. If either man wanted to consult the written options, he could do so.

He then would choose a retaliatory option and his command would be read back to him. Once he confirms, the command center would use the military's launch authorization codes to release nuclear missiles.

A US military Presidential aide carrying case known as the football, which contains nuclear release codes
A US military Presidential aide carrying case known as the football, which contains nuclear release codes. Picture: Getty

But, US lawmakers of the current president’s own party have previously asked President Joe Biden to surrender that unilateral power.

The letter, led by Representatives Jimmy Panetta and Ted Lieu, both from California, called for officials, such as the vice president and speaker of the House, to concur with a launch order before it can be issued.

The letter, which was sent to the White House in February 2021, “proposes several alternatives to investing the president with the sole, unchecked and final authority to order the use of nuclear weapons."

The briefcase is never far from the US President.
The briefcase is never far from the US President. Picture: Smithsonian Institute

The Football does not actually contain a button for launching a nuclear war. Instead, it contains a series of codebooks with commands which can be communicated to the Pentagon.

It is understood the Football also provides the President with a simple menu or pre-planned nuclear strike options, for example allowing him to select a country or city to target.

When a President is sworn into office they are presented with a plastic card which contains the nuclear codes, the card is referred to as "the biscuit," and a nuclear strike cannot be launched without it.

Biden pledges to be "a president who seeks not to divide but to unify"

During President Donald Trump’s visit to China in 2017, Chinese officials tried to stop the military aide carrying the football from entering the auditorium in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, although the situation was quickly resolved.

The Football is always carried by a uniformed, and armed, military officer shackled to their wrist.

Each of the five branches of the US Uniformed Services supply a mid-ranking commissioned officer to carry the most powerful briefcase in the world.

A second Football is kept close to the Vice President, while a backup resides at the White House.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Two dead and two children in hospital after house fire in Blackpool

Fundraiser set up in bid to raise money for family of Blackpool couple killed in fire

Six people were found dead at a luxury hotel in Bangkok died from cyanide, including Sherine Chong (left)

US woman insisted on making tea for victims before poisoning them in cyanide murder-suicide plot at Bangkok hotel

Just Stop Oil founder Roger Hallam jailed for five years over M25 protests

Five Just Stop Oil activists - including founder Roger Hallam - given record jail sentences over M25 protest

Border Force returns migrant boat to France for first time in history after refugee dies in the Channel

Border Force returns migrant boat to France for first time in history after refugee dies in the Channel

Sir Geoffrey Boycott was first diagnosed with throat cancer in 2002.

Sir Geoffrey Boycott’s family issues health update as England legend undergoes cancer surgery

Liz Colfer says pension taxation misses the mark.

Why pension taxation proposals miss the mark

It follows a sharp rise in the number of abusive messages sent via the bank's app.

Santander bans swear words when sending money after abusers use 1p bank transfers to bypass restraining orders

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reacts after the announcement of the vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg

Ursula von Der Leyen wins second term as top EU leader

Sir Ed Davey has been criticised for his time as Post Office minister

Ed Davey says sorry for taking five months to meet Alan Bates and says ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells ‘fed me lies’

The original Bacchus by Giambologna sits in the Bargello museum in Florence

Former Italian cultural minister defends woman who simulated sex with beloved Florence statue

Formal talkjs will begin next week in a bid to end long-running junior doctors strike

Government to begin formal talks with junior doctors to end long-running pay row

Jay Slater and his mum, Debbie Duncan

Jay Slater's mum appeals for funeral donations to give son the 'send-off he deserves'

File photo dated 26/07/23 of Andrew Malkinson. The Criminal Cases Review Commission has offered an 'unreserved apology' for failing Malkinson, who spent 17 years in prison for being wrongly convicted of rape. Issue date: Thursday April 18, 2024.

Wrongly imprisoned Andrew Malkinson 'could have been freed a decade earlier', watchdog finds

Taylor Swift plays to 60,000 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Police arrest suspected Taylor Swift stalker moments before concert kicks off

Pret A Manger has overhauled its coffee subscription plan

Fury as Pret scraps 'too good to be true' £30-a-month coffee subscription in favour of new scheme

Di Prima has been axed from Strictly Come Dancing amid the allegations against him.

Axed Strictly star Graziano Di Prima returns to £6 an hour job amid allegations he 'hit and kicked' dance partner Zara McDermott