Millions of US military messages accidentally sent to Mali due to email typo

A significant blunder has reportedly resulted in millions of US military emails, some of which contain highly sensitive information, being sent to Mali. The error occurred when the email address domain was entered as .ML instead of .MIL. According to the Financial Times, this one-letter mistake has exposed various data including diplomatic documents, tax returns, passwords, and travel details of high-ranking officers, among other things. While the misrouted emails have ended up with a contractor responsible for managing Mali’s country domain, control of .ML will soon be handed over to the Malian government, which has connections to Russia.

The discovery of this “typo leak” was made by Johannes Zuurbier, a Dutch contractor in charge of Mali’s country domain. Zuurbier claims he has made multiple attempts to warn the United States about the issue since 2014, urging them to address it seriously, but to no avail. As his contract approaches its expiration date and the domain, along with the misdirected emails, is about to be transferred to the Malian government, Zuurbier states that he began collecting the email as a final effort to prompt urgent action from the US. In an early July letter to the US, Zuurbier wrote, “This risk is real and could be exploited by adversaries of the US.” According to him, he has gathered around 117,000 emails, and nearly 1,000 more arrived just last Wednesday.

Although none of the messages collected by Zuurbier were marked as classified, they still contain sensitive information regarding US military personnel, contractors, and their families. The exposed content includes travel plans for a May visit by US Army Chief of Staff, General James McConville, to Indonesia. Other compromised data consists of installation maps, base photos, identity documents (such as passport numbers), ship crew lists, financial records, medical data, naval inspection reports, contracts, criminal complaints against personnel, internal bullying investigations, and bookings. One email from an FBI agent even contained a Turkish diplomatic letter warning about potential operations by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Even from unclassified information, sustained access like this can be utilized to gather intelligence,” stated former NSA head and retired four-star US Navy Admiral Mike Rogers to the FT. Rogers acknowledges that mistakes are not uncommon, but emphasizes the significance lies in the scale, duration, and sensitivity of the compromised information.

Lt. Cmdr Tim Gorman, speaking on behalf of the Pentagon, informed the FT that the Department of Defense is aware of the issue and takes any unauthorized disclosure of controlled national security information or controlled unclassified information seriously. Gorman mentioned that emails sent from .MIL to .ML addresses are blocked before leaving the .mil domain, and the sender is notified to validate the email addresses of the intended recipients. This suggests that the misrouted emails may have originated from personal accounts of US military personnel.

 

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