During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump made clear his intention to investigate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for possible disclosures of classified information.
One such occurrence may have occurred in Trump's very presence.
Clinton may have disclosed classified information regarding nuclear weapons during the third presidential debate, according to a retired army intelligence officer.
“There’s about four minutes between the order being given and the people responsible for launching nuclear weapons to do so,” Clinton said.
But some are now questioning her judgment in making the claim.
“She violated the law in a way that if I did that, it would have prompted an investigation,” said Tony Shafer, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer. “That said, I don’t think it is a great violation. I think it is one more example of how she has flouted security regulation and non-disclosure agreements.”
Shafer said such specific information is useful to other nations. “Any intelligence collection service worth its salt will have an open source capability and take notice of her comments. Of course they will also have prior knowledge and estimation of U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities," he said. "This disclosure gives countries like China, Iran, and North Korea and knowledge of our American capabilities. It gives them an example of U.S. response times and the ability to develop contingencies.”
Under the Department of Defense’s Special Access Program (SAP), certain officials are given classified briefings on U.S nuclear weapons capabilities, according to Shafer. As U.S. Secretary of State, Clinton was given a briefing on classified nuclear weapons capabilities within 30 days of taking office. “They have you read a document, show you a film, and tell you about the process that would happen should you be in charge of the ‘nuclear football,’ the device the president uses to launch a nuclear strike,” Shafer said.
There is only one instance of such a device being activated in human history, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
A U.S. submarine launch of a satellite almost created a nuclear war in January 25, 1995. Russian officials believed at the time that the launch detected in Norwegian waters was a ballistic missile. Then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin activated the Russian-version of the“nuclear football," a device used to authorize a nuclear strike.
Russian officials feared that a missile might be detonated over Russia to knockout out electronic systems before a larger nuclear attack. When Russian warning satellites failed to find activity at U.S missile silos, Yeltsin decided no nuclear strike was taking place.
Of the world’s eight declared nuclear weapons states, only the Russian Federation and the United States openly maintain their nuclear arsenals in a ready stance, able to deploy them within a few minutes, according to Shafer.
Given Trump's pledge to improve Russian-American relations, China may be the country most concerned about America's nuclear arsenal.
Despite its growing international stature, China has not developed a quick strike capability for its nuclear arsenal, according to Li Bin, an expert on the Chinese nuclear program at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center
“China could develop a quick launch capability, but the first generation leaders of the People’s Republic of China chose to have a strategy of a long time wait time before any possible nuclear retaliation. The idea is to avoid any misjudgment before possible nuclear retaliation,” said Li Bin. “Four minutes is a very short time for a decision maker to decide on a nuclear attack.”