Remember that scene in Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series, Newsroom, when uber-but-slightly-daffy producer, MacKenzie McHale (played by Emily Mortimer) accidentally emails everyone on her list a very revealing note about her past lover and current boss, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels)? Much is made in the episode about “how could anyone in the 21st century be SO technologically backward as to make such a stupid mistake??” and of course we all nod, because certainly we agree…the dangers of email blunders – particularly at work – are to be vigilantly avoided.
So imagine being a spokesperson for the most infamous Muslim fundamentalist organization, the Taliban, and pulling a sort of “MacKenzie” by “outing” the emails of over 400 people after accidentally cc’ing them all instead of following the standard protocol of bcc’ing (which keeps everyone’s email addresses private). It’s one thing to embarrass yourself and an ex-lover to a slew of sniggering co-workers who’ll think it’s funny, endearing or slightly creepy; it’s a whole other matter to expose the private email addresses of associates and colleagues when you happen to be front person for a group better known for its zealotry and extremism than how it comports itself in office politics.
According to a report on ABC News by writer Muhammad Lila, this breach occurred when Taliban spokesperson, Qari Yousuf Ahmedi, received a press release from another Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid:
Ahmedi then forwarded Mujahid’s email to the full Taliban mailing list, but rather than using the BCC function, or blind carbon copy which keeps email addresses private, Ahmedi made the addresses public. […]
The list, made up of more than 400 recipients, consists mostly of journalists, but also includes an address appearing to belong to a provincial governor, an Afghan legislator, several academics and activists, an l Afghan consultative committee, and a representative of Gulbuddein Hekmatar, an Afghan warlord whose outlawed group Hezb-i-Islami is believed to be behind several attacks against coalition troops.
In other words, “Oops, he pulled a MacKenzie!” Or, as journalist Mutafa Kazemi, a war correspondent based in Kabul, tweeted to his 9,500+ followers:
“Taliban have included all 4 of my email addresses on the leaked distribution list. Quite reassuring to my safety.”
Despite the fact that the group involved in this public relations blunder is one that inspires fear and dread the world over, a sort of macabre humor has sprung up in response to the story. A Twitter hashtag has been created – #talibansubjectlines – and certain parties have taken a sly view of the situation. According to Lila:
The Taliban routinely send out press releases to their mailing list, often claiming responsibility for attacks against Afghan and coalition targets. They are known for exaggerating casualty figures.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have increased the number of emails they send out, growing from just a handful every week, to several per day. Most of the emails are sent from Ahmedi’s account. The increase coincides with the end of the annual Taliban fighting season, prompting one local journalist to joke, “I guess when fighting season ends, emailing season begins.”
Whether there will be any long-term consequences for those in the group revealed, or the gentleman who did the revealing, has not yet been determined. But clearly the ease with which sensitive, private information can be accidentally exposed by even a group as secretive and controversial as the Taliban makes it clear just how vulnerable we all are with the power of the Internet at our fingertips. One can only wonder how the clumsy Mr. Ahmedi is feeling…turns out he’s not responding to emails at this time.