A photo of a smiling uniformed Army officer identified as the aide carrying nuclear launch information for the president went viral Monday as social media users wondered whether it was prudent for him to be identified, but military officials said he did nothing illegal nor against protocol.
A member of President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Richard DeAgazio, posted the photo on Facebook.
U.S. military officials said it’s not illegal for the officer to take the photo, nor against protocol, though they acknowledged it is strange.
"There is an understanding that we, as military officials and those who serve our elected officials, typically seek to maintain a low profile,” said a senior U.S. defense official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter. “It's never about us. It's about the mission and the people we serve."
The photo of the aide doesn’t pose any immediate security risk, but it’s illustrative of another problem, said Stephen Schwartz, a nuclear weapons policy expert and the coauthor of “Atomic Audit,” which assesses the costs of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
“The idea that a rich guy could walk up to one of them and snap a photo with them to brag to his friends strikes me as flat-out wrong," he said.
The White House has not addressed the photograph.
A military aide constantly shadows the commander in chief, carrying the briefcase commonly referred to as the “nuclear football.” The case does not actually contain nuclear codes, rather nuclear attack options on foreign targets and other information critical in an emergency.
The briefcase can be traced at least to the Kennedy administration, when the threat of nuclear war hit its peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Because the case must be near the president at all times, several aides from all military branches are authorized to carry it. They are photographed nearly every day trailing the president, perhaps most famously in Red Square in Moscow in May 1988 alongside President Reagan in a momentous visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative pundits criticized Vice President Joe Biden in August when he publicly identified a military aide with the nuclear football during a campaign rally for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The Department of Defense is also planning to lease space in Trump Tower, the 68-story New York building where the president has his home and business headquarters. A floor with 13,000 to 15,000 square feet of space at the building rents for about $1.5 million a year.
The reason the military needs the space? They need room for military aides to handle the nuclear football.