US military emails end up in Russia-friendly Mali due to typos

26. 07. 2023 | Kristýna Bezděková

Millions of emails addressed to members of the US military over the past few years have ended up in Mali because the authors mistakenly included the Malian domain “.ml” instead of the military’s “.mil” extension. This was reported today by the Financial Times (FT), which said the “typo leak” involved highly sensitive information such as diplomatic documents and details of officer transfers.

The problem is all the more serious for the Americans because the management of the “.ml” domain is now passing back into the hands of the Malian government, which is close to Russia. Malian authorities will now be able to collect the diverted emails addressed to the US military. The military government of the West African country did not respond to a request for comment.

For the past decade, the Malian domain has been operated by the firm of Dutch businessman Johannes Zuurbier. He has repeatedly warned US officials that materials intended for military officials end up with him, but the problem persists, according to the Financial Times. “This risk is real and could be exploited by adversaries of the United States,” he wrote in a new warning this month.

Earlier this year, he began saving the misdirected emails in an effort to persuade Americans to take the matter seriously. Since then, he has collected more than 100,000 of them. Much of the unintentional traffic to the Malian domain is spam, and the messages do not include any material marked classified, but some do contain information about members of the military or its external collaborators, the FT reports.

“Their contents include X-rays and medical data, ID information, ship crew lists, lists of personnel on bases, maps of the sites, photographs of the bases, naval inspection reports, contracts, criminal charges against soldiers, internal hazing investigations, official travel schedules, reservations, and tax and financial records,” the newspaper wrote.

One of this year’s emails with a typo in the ending contained details of the travel plans of General James McConville, the commander of the US ground forces. The email gave details of a reservation at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, where the general and his delegation traveled in May, as well as his itinerary.

Pentagon spokesman Tim Gorman said the Defense Department was “aware of the issue” and “takes seriously” any unauthorized handling of sensitive information. He said it uses a mechanism that automatically blocks emails sent from military accounts to addresses that include the Malian domain.

Mike Rogers, former head of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Army cyber operations, warned that even material not maintained as classified can be used for intelligence purposes if access is prolonged. “It’s not unusual,” he said. “It’s not outside the norm for people to make mistakes, but the issue is the scope, time and sensitivity of the information.”


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Author of this article

Kristýna Bezděková

Kristýna is a student of marketing and communication in an undergraduate program. She writes and translates content into the Czech language


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