The true story of the "nuclear football"

For the Football to function as designed, the military aide must be nearby the commander in chief at all times and the president must be in possession of his authentication codes. Both elements of the system have failed on occasion. According to the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, Clinton mislaid his laminated code card, nicknamed the “Biscuit,” for several months in 2000. “This is a big deal, a gargantuan deal,” the general complained in his 2010 autobiography, Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.

An even closer brush with disaster came during the attempted assassination of Reagan in March 1981. During the chaos that followed the shooting, the military aide was separated from the president, and did not accompany him to the George Washington University hospital. In the moments before Reagan was wheeled into the operating theater, he was stripped of his clothes and other possessions. The Biscuit was later found abandoned, unceremoniously dumped in a hospital plastic bag. It seems unlikely that a crown or scepter would have been treated so cavalierly.