What Is the Nuclear Football

The nuclear football is a briefcase, the contents of which are used by the President of the United States to communicate and authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers such as the White House Situation Room or the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. There are four things in the Football: the Black Book containing the retaliatory options, a book listing classified site locations, a manila folder with 8-10 pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Alert System, and a 3x5 card with authentication codes. The president is always accompanied by a military aide carrying the nuclear football. The use of the nuclear football dates back to the final years of the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, when it became an instrument for White House emergency preparations and presidential control over nuclear weapons. President John F. Kennedy implemented carrying a card on his person that contained the launch codes, in case he got separated from the football. The card was referred to as “the biscuit.” When President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, hospital staff cut away his clothing. Finding a laminated card in his suit pocket, they discarded it into his shoe on the floor, where it was left unattended. The card was, of course, the biscuit with the list of nuclear launch codes. In February 2021, a group of 31 Congress members signed a letter requesting that President Biden give up sole authority to use the nuclear launch codes.