OFFICIALS are looking into security surrounding the “nuclear football” after Capitol rioters came within 100 feet of the briefcase carrying the strike codes.
The Pentagon inspector general’s office announced a probe on Tuesday following questions about the case’s security in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection.
The investigation marks a rare look at whether authorities are prepared to deal with the theft of the “football,” which enables the president or a stand-in to order a nuclear attack.
A memo says the watchdog will look into the “extent that DoD (Department of Defense) 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 Pentagon inspector general’s office did not disclose what sparked the probe.
‘100 FT FROM PENCE’
But Vice President Mike Pence was seen on security camera video being escorted to safety, along with a military aide carrying the backup “nuclear football,” as rioters entered the Capitol on January 6.
Lawmaker Stacey Plaskett told a Senate hearing in February: “As the rioters reached the top of the stairs, they 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.”
A backup system always accompanies the vice president so that he is able to communicate in the event the president cannot.
In 2017, during a lunch between Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a Chinese security official got into a tussle in another room with the US military aide carrying the briefcase.
The “football,” officially called the Presidential Emergency Satchel, enables communication with the office inside the Pentagon that transmits nuclear attack orders.
Randolph R. Stone, an assistant inspector general, wrote into the director of the White House military office and the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon in July.
He said: “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.
“This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event.”
Reps. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Jim Cooper of Tennessee had asked the Pentagon inspector general to review the matter.
They said in a joint statement: “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 two lawmakers wrote to the Pentagon inspector general’s office in March.
They said then: “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.”
The inspector general’s office said its review began this month. It gave no timeline for completing it.
Security expert Stephen Schwartz told CNN the Capitol riot was “the only recent known event putting the ‘football’ in significant potential danger to provoke this level of concern.”
Kingston Reif, an expert on nuclear weapons policy, added: “The risk associated with the insurrectionists getting their hands on Pence’s football wasn’t that they could have initiated an unauthorized launch.
“But had they stolen the football and acquired its contents, which include pre-planned nuclear strike options, they could have shared the contents with the world.”