**Millions of U.S. Military Emails Accidentally Sent to Mali Due to Typo Leak**
A simple typo has resulted in millions of emails intended for the U.S. military being delivered to Mali, a pro-Russia state in West Africa, according to the Financial Times. The issue arose from the misspelling of the suffix used at the end of U.S. military email addresses. While the military uses .MIL, the country identifier for Mali is .ML.
**Domain Mismanagement Leads to Email Misdirection**
For a decade, the .ML domain was managed by Dutch entrepreneur Johannes Zuurbier, who had taken on similar contracts in Tokelau, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. However, now that Zuurbier’s 10-year domain management contract has expired, the Malian government gains access to all emails accidentally sent to their domain over the past decade.
**Sensitive Data Compromised**
The unintentionally misdirected emails included messages from internal sources within the military, such as travel agents and private contractors. These individuals often misspelled .MIL in their communications. While none of the emails received by Zuurbier were classified, some contained personal information about military contractors, serving personnel, and their families. This information encompassed medical data, passport details, crew lists, photos of bases, details of internal investigations, and travel plans.
**Serious Consequences for National Security**
One example cited in the report was an FBI agent inadvertently sending six messages to Mali that included a letter from a Turkish diplomat regarding possible militant activity and several briefings on domestic terrorism. Some emails came with disclaimers such as “For Official Use Only” or “Not Releasable to the Public or Foreign Governments.” There were also cases of employees accidentally sending password recovery requests and passwords needed to access Department of Defense documents to the wrong address.
**Pentagon Responds to the Issue**
Lt. Cmdr Tim Gorman, a Pentagon spokesperson, acknowledged the issue and emphasized the Department of Defense’s efforts to prevent unauthorized disclosures of Controlled National Security Information or Controlled Unclassified Information. The DoD has implemented policy, training, and technical controls to ensure that emails from the “.mil” domain are not delivered to incorrect domains. While it is not feasible to prevent the use of personal email accounts for government business, the department continues to provide guidance and training to its personnel.
**Persistence of the Problem**
Johannes Zuurbier, the former manager of the .ML domain, had been gathering mistakenly sent emails intended for Mali since the beginning of the year. He amassed over 110,000 messages while attempting to raise awareness of the problem to American authorities. Zuurbier has made numerous efforts to address the issue, including seeking legal advice, asking for help from Dutch diplomats, and notifying U.S. authorities.
**Russian Influence in Mali Raises Concerns**
Mali has a history of armed rebellion, extremist activity, and military dictatorship. The current military council, led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, seized control of the country in 2020 and continues to strengthen ties with Russia. The Kremlin has provided assistance in Mali’s fight against Islamist extremist insurgencies, resulting in Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov receiving a top honor in the country earlier this year. The U.S. and the U.N. have expressed concerns about Russia’s growing influence in Mali and the surrounding region, with the U.S. Secretary of State warning about the negative consequences and potential war crimes associated with the presence of Russian mercenary group Wagner.
**Uncertain Outlook and Defenses**
The Malian government has defended its relationship with Russia, but following the recent failed rebellion by the Wagner Group in Russia, it remains unclear whether Russia’s military assistance will continue in Mali. The Wagner troops were enlisted by Moscow to counter jihadist fighters in the country.
In conclusion, the accidental misdirection of millions of emails intended for the U.S. military to Mali due to a simple typo has serious implications for national security. The personal and sensitive information contained in these emails is at risk of landing in the wrong hands. The Pentagon has emphasized its efforts to prevent unauthorized disclosures and continues to provide instruction and guidance to personnel. However, the persistence of the problem and the growing Russian influence in Mali raises concerns about the potential exploitation of this situation.