During President Trump's visit to Beijing in November, Chief of Staff John Kelly and a U.S. Secret Service agent skirmished with Chinese security officials over the "nuclear football," a black leather satchel, at the Great Hall of the People, Axios reported Monday, quoting five sources familiar with the events.
The sources told Axios Sneak Peek that on Nov. 9, Chinese security officials obstructed the U.S. military aide as he was entering the Great Hall with the nuclear football.
The nuclear football is a briefcase, carrying the contents to be used by the president of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers. The official carrying the nuclear football must remain close to the president at all times, along with a doctor.
"A U.S. official hurried into the adjoining room and told Kelly what was happening. Kelly rushed over and told the U.S. officials to keep walking — 'We're moving in,' he said — and the Americans all started moving. Then there was a commotion. A Chinese security official grabbed Kelly, and Kelly shoved the man's hand off of his body. Then a U.S. Secret Service agent grabbed the Chinese security official and tackled him to the ground," Axios says.
The report's author, Jonathan Swan, adds, "I'm told that at no point did the Chinese have the nuclear football in their possession or even touch the briefcase."
"Contrary to popular belief, the Football does not actually contain a big red button for launching a nuclear war," explains an earlier article in the Smithsonian magazine. "Its primary purpose is to confirm the president's identity, and it allows him to communicate with the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, which monitors worldwide nuclear threats and can order an instant response. The Football also provides the commander in chief with a simplified menu of nuclear strike options—allowing him to decide, for example, whether to destroy all of America's enemies in one fell swoop or to limit himself to obliterating only Moscow or Pyongyang or Beijing."
Its origin can be traced back to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
In September 2016, U.S. and Chinese officials had a dispute over how the president would exit Air Force One during President Obama's visit to eastern China for the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hangzhou. Obama had to eventually leave the plane through a exit in its belly.