The soccer ball is a symbol of the beautiful game, but there is concern that one in particular could carry a far-from-lovely Russian bug.
Speaking during the joint press conference following his July 16 meeting in Helsinki with President Donald Trump, Russian president Vladimir Putin pulled from the tactics and equipment of the World Cup soccer tournament, which played out across Russia in June and July. As questions heated up, Putin signaled to someone for a soccer ball. A swift passing combination began.
Putin received a commemorative match ball from a throw-in off camera. He distributed the ball to Trump. “I’ll give this ball to you and now the ball is in your court,” Putin said. With possession of the ball, Trump paused. “That will go to my son Barron,” the American president said. He forwarded the ball to his wife, who was sitting in the front row. “Melania, here you go.” The ball appeared to bounce harmlessly on the ground.
For Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC., the swift passing combination may deserve a yellow card. “I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House,” he warned on Twitter.
Recent history is littered with examples of when the Kremlin has bugged American officials. In 1945, the American ambassador to Moscow was presented with a wood carving of the seal of the United States. A listening device was discovered inside the seal seven years later. Russian bugs have also been discovered inside the State Department, on Capitol Hill, and attached to flash drives.
The Trump White House has been a target for intelligence officials. The Department of Homeland Security announced earlier this year there was evidence of eavesdropping equipment near the White House.
The White House did not respond to questions regarding the fate of the soccer ball.
Justin Lynch is the Associate Editor at Fifth Domain. He has written for the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and others. Follow him on Twitter @just1nlynch.