A Russian nuclear briefcase, code-named Cheget

A nuclear briefcase is a specially outfitted briefcase used to authorize the use of nuclear weapons and is usually kept near the leader of a nuclear weapons state at all times.


In France, the nuclear briefcase does not officially exist.[1] A black briefcase called the "mobile base"[2] follows the president in all his trips, but it is not specifically devoted to nuclear force.[3]


India does not have a nuclear briefcase. In India, the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) must collectively authorize the use of nuclear weapons.[4][5] The NCA Executive Council gives its opinion to the Political Council, which authorises a nuclear attack when deemed necessary. While the Executive Council is chaired by the National Security Advisor (NSA), the Political Council is chaired by the Prime Minister. This mechanism was implemented to ensure that Indian nuclear weapons remain firmly in civilian control and that there exists a sophisticated command-and-control mechanism to prevent their accidental or unauthorised use.[6]

The Prime Minister is often accompanied by Special Protection Group personnel carrying a black briefcase. It contains foldable Kevlar protection armor, essential documents and has a pocket that can hold a pistol.[5][7]


Main article: Cheget

Russia's "nuclear briefcase" is code-named Cheget. It "supports communication between senior government officials while they are making the decision whether to use nuclear weapons, and in its own turn is plugged into the special Kazbek communication system, which includes all the individuals and agencies involved in command and control of the Strategic Nuclear Forces." It is usually assumed, although not known with certainty, that the nuclear briefcases are also issued to the Minister of Defense and the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Federation.[8][9]

United States

Main article: Nuclear football


This section is transcluded from Nuclear football. (edit | history)

President Biden about to board Marine One—the military aide at back-center is carrying the nuclear football

In his 1980 book Breaking Cover,[10] Bill Gulley, former director of the White House Military Office, wrote:[11]

There are four things in the Football. The Black Book containing the retaliatory options, a book listing classified site locations, a manila folder with eight or ten pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Alert System, and a three-by-five-inch [7.5 × 13 cm] card with authentication codes. The Black Book was about 9 by 12 inches [23 × 30 cm] and had 75 loose-leaf pages printed in black and red. The book with classified site locations was about the same size as the Black Book, and was black. It contained information on sites around the country where the president could be taken in an emergency.

The president is always accompanied by a military aide carrying the nuclear football with launch codes for nuclear weapons.[12] It has been described both as a metal Zero Halliburton briefcase[13] and as a leather briefcase weighing about 45 pounds (20 kg), with photographic evidence existing of the latter.[11] A small antenna protrudes from the bag near the handle, suggesting that it also contains communications equipment of some kind.[11]

It is popularly believed that the football contains a large red button, which when pressed, launches a nuclear attack.[14][15][16]


This section is transcluded from Nuclear football. (edit | history)

Video describing the United States' nuclear launch authorization process

If the U.S. president, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, decides to order the use of nuclear weapons, the briefcase would be opened. A command signal, or "watch" alert, would be issued to the United States Strategic Command and perhaps the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president would review the attack options with others such as the secretary of defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and decide on a plan, which could range from the launch of a single or multiple ICBMs. These are among the preset war plans developed under OPLAN 8010 (formerly the Single Integrated Operational Plan).[17] A two-person verification procedure would precede the entering of the codes into a Permissive Action Link.[citation needed]

Before the order can be followed by the military, the president must be positively identified using a special code issued on a plastic card, nicknamed the "biscuit".[18] The authentication is conducted between the President and the National Military Command Center Deputy Director of operations, using a challenge code of two phonetic letters. The President will read, from the biscuit, the daily phonetic letters, and the deputy director will confirm or deny that it is correct, confirmation indicating the person is the president and the attack orders can be given.[19] Down the chain of command, the United States has a two-man rule in place at nuclear launch facilities. This verification process ensures the order came from the actual president; the defense secretary has no veto power. Many sources show that the President has sole launch authority.[20][21][22]

It has been argued that the president may not have sole authority to initiate a nuclear attack because the defense secretary is required to verify the order but cannot veto it.[23][24][25] U.S. law dictates that the attack must be lawful; military officers are required to refuse to execute unlawful orders, such as those that violate international humanitarian law.[26] Military officials, including General John Hyten, have testified to the U.S. Congress that they would refuse to carry out an unlawful order for a nuclear strike.[27] In addition, off-the-shelf strike packages are pre-vetted by lawyers to confirm that they are legal and, thus, such a strike would be presumed to be a lawful order.[28] Military servicemembers have been reprimanded for questioning U.S. protocols for nuclear strike authority. In 1975, Major Harold Hering was discharged from the Air Force for asking, "How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?"[29] Despite all these, the president, once in office, as noted by former Defense Secretary William Perry and Tom Z. Collina, retains the sole authority to launch a nuclear strike or attack.[30]

The football is carried by one of the rotating presidential military aides (one from each of the six armed forces service branches), whose work schedule is described by a top-secret rota. This person is a commissioned officer in the U.S. military, pay-grade O-4 or above, who has undergone the nation's most rigorous background check (Yankee White).[31] These officers are required to keep the football readily accessible to the president at all times. Consequently, the aide, football in hand, is always either standing or walking near the president, including riding on Air Force One, on Marine One, or in the presidential motorcade with the president.[31]

There are three nuclear footballs in all; two are allocated to the president and vice president, with the last being stored in the White House.[32] The practice of also providing an aide with a football to the vice president, to whom command authority would devolve if the president is disabled or deceased, began during the Carter administration.[33] In presidential transitions, the president-elect does not receive the actual nuclear code card until after the nuclear briefing, which usually occurs when "he meets with the outgoing president at the White House just before the actual inauguration ceremony. The code card is activated electronically right after the president-elect takes the oath at noon".[34]

If the outgoing president is not present at the inauguration — as happened in 2021 when Donald Trump did not attend the inauguration of Joe Biden but stayed in Florida[35] — one football is kept with him and remains active until 11:59:59 AM on inauguration day. After that point, the now-former president is denied access to the football, its codes are automatically deactivated, and the aide carrying the football returns to Washington, D.C. In the meantime, the incoming president receives one of the spare footballs at the pre-inauguration nuclear briefing, as well as a "biscuit" with codes that become active at 12:00:00 PM.[36]

According to military analyst and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, presidents beginning with Eisenhower have in fact delegated nuclear launch authority to military commanders who may then sub-delegate authority further. In Ellsberg's view, the nuclear football is primarily a piece of political theater, a hoax that obscures the real chain of nuclear command and control.[37]

Briefcases in fiction

Cinema and literature have dealt with this subject various times.

Film and television


The key used to fire nuclear missiles is stolen from the President of France.

See also


  1. ^ Le mystère des codes nucléaires
  2. ^ "Comment transmet-on le code des armes nucléaires?". Archived from the original on 2015-12-08.
  3. ^ "SUITCASE NUCLEAR DEVICES". www.prop1.org. Retrieved 2019-04-07.
  4. ^ P, Rajat (27 May 2014). "Narendra Modi has his finger now on India's nuclear button". The Times of India. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b Dutta, Amrita Nayak (25 February 2020). "What was Modi's security staff carrying in black briefcases? Not nuclear code". ThePrint. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  6. ^ "Nuke command set up, button in PM's hand". The Times of India. 4 Jan 2003. Archived from the original on 4 September 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  7. ^ Awasthi, Anjali (27 June 2021). "Have You Noticed PM Modi's Bodyguards Carrying A Briefcase? Here's What's Inside". Scoop Whoop. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  8. ^ Adventures of the "Nuclear Briefcase": A Russian Document Analysis Archived 2014-07-28 at the Wayback Machine, Strategic Insights, Volume III, Issue 9 (September 2004), by Mikhail Tsypkin
  9. ^ A 2nd Briefcase for Putin By Alexander Golts, Moscow Times, 20 May 2008
  10. ^ Gulley, Bill (1980). Breaking Cover. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671245481.
  11. ^ a b c Applewhite, J. Scott (2005-05-05). "Military aides still carry the president's nuclear 'football'". USA Today. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  12. ^ Eggen, Dan. "Cheney, Biden Spar In TV Appearances" Archived March 3, 2017, at the Wayback Machine. The Washington Post, December 22, 2008. Accessed December 16, 2009.
  13. ^ Warchol, Glen (June 5, 2005). "Security: Sleek, sexy and oh, so safe / Utah company's attaché case is a Hollywood staple". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015.
  14. ^ Kaplan, Fred (February 11, 2021). "How Close Did the Capitol Rioters Get to the Nuclear "Football"?". Slate. Archived from the original on May 14, 2024. Retrieved June 25, 2024.
  15. ^ Dobbs, Michael (October 2014). "The Real Story of the "Football" That Follows the President Everywhere". Smithsonian. Retrieved June 25, 2024.
  16. ^ Craw, Victoria (January 4, 2018). "The nuclear button: Real or fake news?". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved June 25, 2024.
  17. ^ Merrill, Dave; Syeed, Nafeesa; Harris, Brittany (September 7, 2016). "To Launch a Nuclear Strike, President Trump Would Take These Steps". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on June 17, 2020. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  18. ^ Hacking Nuclear Command and Control, International Commission on Nuclear Non proliferation and Disarmament Archived September 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, p. 10.
  19. ^ Lewis, Jeffrey G.; Tertrais, Bruno (February 18, 2019). "The Finger on the Button: The Authority to Use Nuclear Weapons in Nuclear-Armed States" (PDF). nonproliferation.org. Middlebury Institute for International Studies. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
  20. ^ Lewis, Jeffrey G.; Tertrais, Bruno (February 18, 2019). "The Finger on the Button: The Authority to Use Nuclear Weapons in Nuclear-Armed States" (PDF). nonproliferation.org. Middlebury Institute for International Studies. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
  21. ^ "Whose Finger Is On the Button?" (PDF). www.ucsusa.org. Union of Concerned Scientists. September 22, 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2023. In the United States, the president has the sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, for any reason and at any time.
  22. ^ Blair, Bruce G. (3 January 2020). "Loose cannons: The president and US nuclear posture". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 76 (1): 14=-26. doi:10.1080/00963402.2019.1701279. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
  23. ^ Beauchamp, Zack (August 3, 2016). "If President Trump decided to use nukes, he could do it easily". Vox. Archived from the original on February 11, 2018. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  24. ^ Blair, Bruce (June 11, 2016). "What Exactly Would It Mean to Have Trump's Finger on the Nuclear Button?". Politico. Archived from the original on February 15, 2017. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  25. ^ Broad, William J. (August 4, 2016). "Debate Over Trump's Fitness Raises Issue of Checks on Nuclear Power". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 7, 2017. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  26. ^ "18 U.S. Code § 2441 – War crimes". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  27. ^ "Can US generals say 'no' to Trump if he orders a nuclear strike?". BBC News. 2017-11-26. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  28. ^ "Analysis | There was no legal way to stop Trump from ordering a nuclear strike if he wanted to, expert says". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  29. ^ Rosenbaum, Ron (February 28, 2011). "An Unsung Hero of the Nuclear Age – Maj. Harold Hering and the forbidden question that cost him his career". Slate. Archived from the original on October 14, 2011. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  30. ^ Perry, William J.; Collina, Tom Z. (8 January 2021). "Trump Still Has His Finger on the Nuclear Button. This Must Change". Politico. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
  31. ^ a b Stephen P. Williams (March 2004). How to Be President. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811843165.
  32. ^ Stuart, Jeffries (22 August 2016). "The 'nuclear football' – the deadly briefcase that never leaves the president's side". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 7, 2020. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  33. ^ Kaplan, Fred (2021-02-11). "How Close Did the Capitol Rioters Get to the Nuclear "Football"?". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  34. ^ Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin, Donald Trump Is Getting the Nuclear Football, NBC, Jan. 20, 2017 Archived November 11, 2020, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. ^ Liptak, Kaitlan Collins,Kevin (2021-01-08). "Trump tweets he is skipping Biden's inauguration | CNN Politics". CNN. Retrieved 2024-03-03.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  36. ^ Cohen, Zachary (January 19, 2021). "How Trump will hand off the 'nuclear football' to Biden". CNN. Archived from the original on January 19, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  37. ^ Ellsberg, Daniel (2017). The doomsday machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner. London Oxford New York New Delhi Sydney: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-60819-670-8.