A common typo by users of the US military’s email system has resulted in millions of messages, including many containing diplomatic documents and other secret information, being inadvertently sent to government addresses in Mali.
The Pentagon confirmed the “unauthorized disclosures of controlled national security information” on Monday, saying it was “aware of the issue.” While many of the messages were innocuous, some reportedly contained such information as travel arrangements for top officers, tax returns, password retrievals, maps of military installations, and crew lists for ships. None of the emails were confirmed to be classified.
The large-scale confusion came about because the military’s ‘.MIL’ domain name was commonly mistyped as ‘.ML’, which happens to be the suffix used for government email addresses in Mali. Although the Pentagon claimed that emails sent outside the ‘.MIL’ domain name are now being blocked, Dutch internet entrepreneur Johannes Zuurbier told the Financial Times that he collected nearly 117,000 US military emails that landed in Malian government mailboxes in the first six months of this year.
Zuurbier, who managed the Malian government’s internet domain until his contract expired earlier this month, said he first noticed the problem nearly ten years ago and repeatedly warned the Pentagon that the “risk is real and could be exploited by adversaries.”
The US cut off military relations with Mali following a March 2012 military coup that overthrew the country’s elected government. The administration of President Joe Biden complained in 2021 that the Malian government had hired Russian military contractor Wagner Group and refused to accept 2,000 additional UN peacekeepers. The current leadership in Bamako kicked out the remaining UN peacekeepers last month.
The latest spilling of secrets comes at a time when the Pentagon is already dealing with the fallout from massive leaks by a low-level Air National Guardsman who posted documents on a Discord server. The 21-year-old soldier was able to obtain and disseminate highly classified information, such as the secret deployments of US special forces in Ukraine, in his role as a computer networking technician.
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