China-US relations

Chinese, US security officials scuffled over ‘nuclear football’ during Trump trip, says report

Altercation came after US military aide carrying briefcase with emergency nuclear weapon codes was barred from entering Great Hall of the People, website reports

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 11:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 8:49pm

Chinese and US security officials were involved in a scuffle when an American agent was barred from entering the Great Hall of the People in Beijing with America’s emergency nuclear weapon codes during President Donald Trump’s visit to the capital, according to a news website report.

The incident happened on November 9 during Trump’s state visit to Beijing, according to the US website Axios.

A security agent always carries a briefcase containing the codes needed to authorise a nuclear attack if the US president is away from a command centre. It is nicknamed the “nuclear football”.

The report said that when the US military aide tried to enter the Great Hall of the People with the case Chinese security officials blocked his way.

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Another official told White House Chief of Staff John Kelly what had occurred and he tried to intervene, Axios said, saying its report was based on five unnamed sources familiar with what happened.

A Chinese security official grabbed Kelly and he shoved the man’s hand away from his body, the report said. A US Secret Service agent then grabbed the Chinese security official and tackled him to the ground.

The report added that the scuffle was over in a flash and US and Chinese officials tried to smooth over the incident. US officials informed of the scuffle were also told not to talk about it, according to the report.

Trump’s team followed the normal security procedure to brief the Chinese before their visit to Beijing, a person familiar with the trip was quoted as saying.

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The head of the Chinese security detail also apologised to the Americans afterwards, according to the report, and the briefcase carrying the nuclear codes was not touched by Chinese officials.

The “nuclear football” carries equipment allowing the president to confirm his identity and to communicate with a command centre at the Pentagon on a nuclear strike.

Questions were raised about the security of the emergency briefcase under Trump’s presidency in February last year after a retired investor shared pictures on social media of him posing with the officer carrying the bag at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

The earliest known photograph of a military official trailing the US head of state with the signature black briefcase dates back to the Kennedy presidency in 1963.