Mali’s got mail, much to the horror of Britain’s Ministry of Defence. 

The MOD has launched an investigation after emails containing classified information were sent to Moscow’s firm ally.

Yet no treacherous leaker was involved: the security breach is all down to a simple typo. 

The set of emails were intended for the US military, whose email domain is “.mil”. But an accidental omission of the letter i meant the messages were sent instead to the West African nation, which uses the domain name “.ml”.

What a blunder. 

Incredibly, it’s not the first time this has happened. Turns out Pentagon officials are equally clumsy with their keyboards – or indeed rather more so. Earlier this month, it emerged that tens of thousands of US military emails have, over the course of many years, been sent to Mali thanks to the very same typing error. 

According to the FT, Dutch internet entrepreneur Johannes Zuurbier, who had a contract to manage Mali’s country domain,  identified the problem over 10 years ago. Since 2013, he has collected a stream of misdirected emails containing sensitive information including passwords, medical records, the itineraries of top officers and maps of US military facilities.

This time round, an MoD spokesman says officials are “confident” the emails “did not contain any information that could compromise operational security or technical data.”

Let’s hope their confidence is well placed – given the close company Mali keeps with Moscow. 

Only today, Assimi Goita, the country’s president, addressed a Russia-Africa summit and praised President Vladimir Putin for his support in fighting “terrorism”.

Mali is a country riven with conflict, run by a government which is fighting an Islamic insurgency. Yet western support in countering this threat has waned. After a decade of failed attempts to promote stability in the region, France withdrew its forces from Mali in August 2022. Moscow hasn’t missed a chance to strengthen its influence in the region, providing the military regime with security assistance, diplomatic backing and information operations support. 

Mali is also one of the African nations where the infamous Wagner mercenary group is thought to be operating. While Goita’s government doesn’t officially recognise the group’s presence in the country, it is believed to have been instrumental in orchestrating an anti-terror operation in the country in Spring 2022, alongside local military forces, that killed roughly 400 civilians. 

In fact earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Mali’s defence minister, air force chief and the deputy chief of staff would be sanctioned for co-ordinating the spread of Wagner in the West African nation. 

The MOD’s timing is less than perfect. Pro-Russian sentiment will be especially high in Mali this week after the Russian president announced yesterday that he will be gifting Goita some grain. 

Mali is one of the six African countries Putin decided to placate this week by promising them 25-50,000 tonnes each of free Russian grain over the next three to four months, to make up for pulling out of Black Sea grain deal which facilitated shipments of Ukrainian grain to Africa. 

Mali has already sided with Putin over the war in Ukraine. During last year’s UN vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 15 African countries abstained while Mali, alongside Eritrea, voted with Moscow. Mali also opposed a UN vote on the anniversary of the invasion demanding that Moscow withdraw its troops from Ukraine. 

Now, especially after Putin’s generous new grain offerings, Goita may well be only too happy to gift him a few emails in return.

Time for a new Pentagon domain name.