Pentagon watchdog assessing 'nuclear football' security after rioters got alarmingly close to one during Capitol siege
- The Pentagon inspector general is launching a review of "nuclear football" security.
- The evaluation follows the riot at the Capitol in January, when rioters came close to Pence and his football.
- The watchdog wants to know more about the plans if the satchel is "lost, stolen, or compromised."
The Department of Defense inspector general is assessing the military's plans for securing the "nuclear football" in an emergency.
The Pentagon watchdog is looking into 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," according to a memo sent Monday.
The memo added that this review is also looking into "the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event."
The inspector general's decision to review the security of the "nuclear football" follows the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol, where rioters came alarmingly close to the vice president and the military aide carrying his backup football. Video from the Capitol siege showed Pence being rushed out, with the emergency briefcase close behind.
Officially known as the president's emergency satchel, the nuclear football is a mobile nuclear command-and-control asset that a president can use with other tools to wage nuclear war should such extreme action be deemed necessary.
The president, as the commander in chief of the US military, has sole nuclear-strike authority, and the football follows him wherever he goes. A backup case, to be used if the president were killed or incapacitated, also accompanies the vice president, just as it did Mike Pence on Jan. 6.
-Stephen Schwartz (@AtomicAnalyst) February 10, 2021
During the Capitol riot, some of the rioters came within 100 feet of Pence, according to multiple reports. Some were chanting "hang Mike Pence" after the vice president did not attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election and in turn drew criticism from then-President Donald Trump.
Stephen Schwartz, a nonresident senior fellow with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and an expert on the football, previously told Insider that the rioters, assuming they made it past Pence's security detail, would not have been able to use the satchel.
That said, if they had somehow gotten their hands on it, it would have been a "massive and unprecedented security breach, disclosing some of the most sensitive and therefore highly classified information generated by the government," he said.
Speaking to CNN about the Pentagon inspector general review, Schwartz told the outlet he was "not aware that such an assessment has ever been done before."
He said that "a violent domestic insurrection was almost certainly not part of the DOD and Secret Service threat matrix until six months ago," adding that "it's the only recent known event putting the 'football' in significant potential danger to provoke this level of concern."
CNN reported in February that military officials were unaware that the "nuclear football" was at risk during the Capitol riot, raising questions about its security.
Massachusetts Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, who serves as chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on National Security, and Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, chairman of the Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, responded positively to news of the security review, which they requested in March in response to the Capitol riots.
"The insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, was not only an unprecedented attack on our democracy, but it also put our national security in grave danger," they said in a statement.
The lawmakers added that "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 DOD OIG for accepting our request to initiate this evaluation."
CNN reported that that this assessment was "largely precipitated by congressional concerns following the events of January 6 on Capitol Hill."
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