With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump buzz in full swing, and the Election taking place tomorrow, the United States is definitely at the center of the action right now. One thing is for certain: a new president will assume office on Inauguration Day, Friday, January 20th, 2017 (isn’t it great that it falls on a Friday, what better way for the outgoing President to kick off the weekend!). This is also the day that the new President will receive the launch codes for the stockpile of nuclear weapons that the U.S. has. But exactly what ARE those codes, and where are they kept?
What They Are
The Gold Codes are the launch codes for the nuclear weapons provided to the Presidents of the United States in their role as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. In conjunction with the Nuclear Football (a briefcase like device used to start a nuclear war while away from the office – interrupting a more than likely pleasant game of golf), the Gold Codes allow the president to allow the nuclear attack.
The Vice President of the United States is also given a set of these codes, just in case the President is incapacitated or otherwise unable to discharge the duties of office pursuant to the 25th amendment.
Gold Codes are arranged in a column, and printed on a plastic card nicknamed “The Biscuit”. The first time I read this, I chuckled to myself thinking “here’s the most devastating codes on earth, and all I can think about is a cold Christmas morning breakfast of Grands fluffy biscuits and jelly”.
The card is similar to a credit card, and the President carries it on their person. Before it can be read, an opaque plastic covering must be snapped in two and removed. The President is the only individual with the authority to use nuclear weapons.
Gold Codes are generated daily by the NSA to the White House, The Pentagon, The United States Strategic Command, and TACAMO. The list of codes on the card also include arbitrary randomly selected codes that have no meaning, therefore the President must be sure to memorize where on the list the correct codes are located. This allows the President to correctly identify themselves as Commander-in-Chief, and thereby authenticate a launch order to the National Military Command Center.
How They’re Used
Should the President decide the time is right (and man do I dread that day), they are taken aside by the “carrier” of the nuclear football, and the briefcase would be opened. Once opened, the President would decide which “attack options”, specific orders for attacks on specific targets, to use. The options are preset, developed under OPLAN 8010, and include Major Attack Options, Selected Attack Options, and Limited Attack Options.
When an option is selected, the Gold Codes, along with the attack option, are then sent to NMCC via a special, secure channel. The National Command Authority, comprising the President and the Secretary of Defense must then jointly authenticate the order to use the nuclear weapons to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The order would then be transmitted over the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, nicknamed “The Gold Phone“, that directly links the NMCC with the United States Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Why Nebraska was chosen, I’m sure we’ll never know. Nice scenery, perhaps?
In any case, hopefully we’ll never have to see the light of day of a nuclear war. At least not before I’ve got my ticket to Mars!