How to succeed in espionage without really trying

Sometimes you don’t have to mount a sophisticated operation, the intelligence just drops into your lap. Millions of emails sent by the US military have ended up in Mali because some American soldiers can’t tell the difference between .MIL and .ML – which is Mali’s domain name. Unfortunately Mali also happens to be a Russian ally so guess where a lot of this information could end up if it isn’t spotted by a friendly domain supervisor?

The good news is that highly sensitive intelligence would not be sent by this route and that the domain manager has been trying to spot these misdirections. The bad news is that just from the routine information on this channel (which includes tax details, posting information and and, sometimes, passwords) an enemy can build up a significant picture of the locations and capabilities of an organisation. In espionage this type of intelligence is known as ORBAT (Order of Battle). Apparently, the company that has the contract to manage Mali’s internet domain has been warning the Americans for over a decade. And yet more than 117,000 misdirected emails have been seen since January this year.

The Pentagon’s only response so far has been to say that it is aware of the issue and takes it “seriously.” Ummm……?!

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