The Department of Defense’s (DOD) inspector general announced it will review how to better secure the “nuclear football,” also known as the Emergency Satchel, in the event it is lost, stolen, or compromised.
“We plan to begin the subject evaluation in July 2021,” the inspector general’s office said (pdf). “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 evaluation, according to the letter, will attempt to determine whether the Pentagon’s procedures are sufficient in responding 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 letter said. “We will perform the evaluation within the Washington D.C. locality. We may identify additional locations during the evaluation.”
The satchel stays close to the president at all times, while there is a backup “nuclear football” that stays near the vice president in the case that a president cannot carry out their nuclear launch responsibilities. The satchel contains decision-making papers and equipment that the president or vice president needs to launch a nuclear strike.
In 2017, an incident occurred in China when former President Donald Trump visited the communist country. A scuffle broke out between U.S. and Chinese officials inside a Beijing building, including the military aide who is tasked with carrying the nuclear suitcase—although the satchel wasn’t compromised.
After the Jan. 6 Capitol incident, Democrat Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands alleged that individuals who breached the Capitol “were within 100 feet of where the vice president was sheltering with his family, and they were just feet away from one of the doors to this chamber.” She made those remarks during Trump’s second impeachment trial in February as she attempted to argue that the former president should be impeached.
Anonymous DOD officials have previously told news outlets that even if someone on Jan. 6 was able to get ahold of the suitcase, it wouldn’t matter because it contains security controls designed to thwart would-be malign actors.
In February, just days after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, dozens of House Democrats signed a letter asking Biden to give up his sole authority to launch a nuclear strike.
“Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) said in a letter earlier this year. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.