Graff: It’s entirely accurate — at least once a launch order is given.
Obviously, the aides around the President could try to talk him out of it, if they disagreed with it, but our entire system is geared towards establishing whether a launch order is “valid” only insofar as whether it’s actually coming from the President of the United States. There’s a classified system of code words that communicate between the President and the person executing the launch order — either at the Pentagon or the mountain bunker in Pennsylvania, Raven Rock, that serves as the alternate Pentagon — that the person on the other end of the phone is the actual legitimate commander in chief. But, there’s no check or balance in the system about whether it’s “valid” to start a nuclear war. There’s no second voice, like the defense secretary or chairman of Joint Chiefs, that has to OK a launch.
As bonkers as that may seem, it’s a procedure that dates back to the Cold War, when we faced the Soviet Union with tens of thousands of nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert. A president would have only about 15 minutes to respond to an attack — perhaps even less — so we devoted literally billions of dollars to building a system that could transmit a launch order as quickly as possible.
From the time that a president orders a launch, the first ICBMs would leave their silos about four minutes later.
Cillizza: Let’s talk nuclear Football. Who carries it? How is that person chosen? What does it look like? What does it contain?
Graff: The Football — the nickname comes from the first nuclear war plan, code-named DROPKICK — is a black briefcase carried by…
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