Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin gifted a soccer ball to U.S. President Donald Trump in honor of the 2018 World Cup. To unsuspecting eyes, the present appears thoughtful, kind, and generous. But anyone who’s been in politics long enough knows better.
“I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted.
And if you think that sounds overly paranoid, think again.
As Bloomberg reports, “Markings on the ball indicate that it contained a chip with a tiny antenna that transmits to nearby phones.”
Civics Lesson: Presidential Gifts
Upon receiving the soccer ball, President Trump said he would give it to his youngest son, Barron. Often, this wouldn’t be allowed, as U.S. law forbids the president and his immediate family from retaining gifts from foreign governments of more than a minimum value of $390. However, since the ball retails for $165, it’s possible that President Trump’s son may get to keep it. It just depends on how the ball is appraised.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photographs taken at the Trump-Putin summit in Finland (where Putin gave the ball to Trump) show that it contains a logo for a near-field communication tag. The high-tech device is an advertised feature of the Adidas AG soccer ball. The chip makes it possible for fans to access player videos, tournaments, and other content by placing their cell phones near the ball.
The press reached out to Adidas about whether or not the chip could be hacked, but the company declined to comment. According to the product description listed on the Adidas website, “It is not possible to delete or rewrite the encoded parameters.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders assured the public that the Trump administration has taken the proper precautions to ensure that the gift is not being used for espionage.
“The security screening process that is done for all gifts was done for the soccer ball,” Sanders said via email. “We are not going to comment further on security procedures.”