What’s in the deadly briefcase that never leaves a US president’s side

The 'nuclear football' is carried by one of Donald Trump's military aides. [Courtesy AFP via Getty Images]

In the United States, there are a few things that never leave the president’s side and only do so on the day he leaves office after an election loss or the end of his tenure. One of those things is the Nuclear football or just football.

The football is a metal zero Halliburton briefcase carried in a leather bag and weighed 20 kilograms in 2005. According to an article by Business Insider, the briefcase contains equipment that presidents would use to authenticate and command US nuclear forces while away from physical command and control centres. 

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A zero Halliburton briefcase. [Courtesy]

The hefty briefcase which is carried by a military aid always accompanies the President at all times.

According to Schwartz, there are at least three to four identical footballs. One tags along with the president, one with the vice president and one set aside for the designated survivor during events such as inaugurations and State of the Union addresses.

Traditionally, the football is handed from one president to another as one exits and the other assumes power. However, the January 20, 2021 inauguration presents a difficult challenge as President Trump skips Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Having that Trump is still president till the point Biden is sworn in at noon on Wednesday, Trump will still be moving with the football as he heads to Florida.

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A US military aide, carrying the “football” containing the launch codes for US nuclear weapons, walks from Air Force One between US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (L) and National Security Adviser John Bolton (R) as they arrive with US President Donald Trump to attend the nearby G7 Summit in Charlevoix after landing aboard Air Force One at Canadian Forces Base Bagotville in La Baie, Quebec, Canada, June 8, 2018. [File, Leah Millis, Reuters]

The constitution of the country gives President Trump complete authority over the US arsenal until the incoming president is sworn in.

Even though the issue presents certain challenges, it is likely that other extra footballs have been arranged by the White House Military Office to ensure that the handing over process runs smoothly.

According to CNN, Trump will have no authority over the nuclear codes he carries, and they will be automatically deactivated the same minute US President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

Added to the football is a plastic card known as “biscuit” which the heads of state carry at all times. The card contains alphanumeric codes used to identify the president who holds the legal power over a nuclear launch.

Biden and his deputy Vice president Kamala Harris are likely to receive their biscuits on Thursday morning after being briefed on the process of initiating a nuclear strike.


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