The mistake occurred because people misspelled the suffix used in U.S. military email addresses. While the correct suffix is .MIL, which stands for the military, the suffix for Mali is .ML.
Consequently, over the past ten years, these misdirected emails were managed by Dutch entrepreneur Johannes Zuurbier, who was responsible for the .ML domain.
However, now that his contract has expired, the Malian government will have access to these emails.
The Financial Times reveals that many of the emails sent to Zuurbier originated from internal sources such as military travel agents, private contractors, and staff who frequently misspelled the domain in official 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 included medical data, passport details, crew lists, photos of bases, internal investigations, and travel plans.
The report also mentions specific instances where confidential information was mistakenly sent to Mali.
One FBI agent accidentally sent six messages, including a letter from a Turkish diplomat regarding potential militant activity and briefings on domestic terrorism.
Some messages contained disclaimers ranging from “For Official Use Only” to “Not Releasable to the Public or Foreign Governments.”
Additionally, the Financial Times notes that employees unintentionally sent password recovery requests and passwords required to access Department of Defense documents to the wrong email address in Mali.
The Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr Tim Gorman, stated that the Department of Defense is aware of the issue and treats unauthorized disclosures of controlled national security information seriously.
While technical controls are in place to prevent emails from the “.mil” domain from being delivered to incorrect domains, the use of personal email accounts for government business cannot be entirely controlled.
The Department continues to provide guidance and training to personnel regarding this matter.
Johannes Zuurbier has been collecting mistakenly sent emails to Mali throughout this year and has accumulated over 110,000 messages.
In an attempt to draw attention to the problem, he wrote a letter to American officials, emphasizing the potential risk and the possibility of exploitation by U.S. adversaries.
Mali, known for its history of armed rebellion, extremist activity, and military dictatorship, has seen its relations with the West deteriorate amid ongoing violence.
However, the country has strengthened its ties with Russia, which has provided assistance in the fight against Islamist extremist insurgencies.
The alliance between Mali and Russia has raised concerns in Washington and the United Nations, with worries about Moscow’s growing influence and possible war crimes associated with the use of Russian mercenaries.
Despite criticism, Mali’s government has defended its relationship with Russia. However, following the failed rebellion by the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization, it remains uncertain whether Russia’s military support will continue in Mali, especially as Wagner troops were deployed to combat jihadist fighters in the country.