YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Journalist Gets a Peek Inside Hussein's E-Mailbox

A freelancer says access was easy and that U.S. firms proposed business deals to the Iraqi leader.

November 18, 2002|From Associated Press

DURHAM, N.H. — Even Saddam Hussein gets spam.

He also gets e-mail purporting to be from U.S. companies offering business deals, and threats, according to a journalist who figured out a way into an Iraqi government e-mail account and downloaded more than 1,000 messages.

Brian McWilliams, a freelancer who specializes in Internet security, says he hardly needed high-level hacking skills to snoop through e-mail addressed to Hussein.

While doing research late one October night, the Durham resident navigated his way to the official Iraqi government's Web site,

The site, which worked last week but was offline Sunday, included links that allowed visitors to send e-mail to Hussein and allowed users of the government-controlled site, which is hosted in Dubai, to check their own accounts.

That mail-checking feature caught McWilliams' eye. On a whim, he typed in the address for Hussein,, using "press" for president, and tried "press" again as a possible password.

Then he waited while his data bounced around the world.

"It took a long time. I was about to hit stop, but then, boom! The inbox appeared," McWilliams said.

There's no way of knowing whether Hussein ever received any e-mail addressed to him. The messages that filled McWilliams' screen were sent between mid-June and mid-August, when the mailbox apparently reached capacity. None of them had been read or replied to, McWilliams said.

"Whoever was responsible for checking the mail -- I'm sure it wasn't him -- had fallen behind," he said.

He has described his find in an October article on Wired News online and has been written about in the International Herald Tribune, but so far McWilliams hasn't heard anything from U.S. authorities. He also has no plans to share his findings with the government.

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for the Treasury Department, which enforces trade sanctions against Iraq, wouldn't comment on the e-mails McWilliams found.

The most disturbing messages appeared to be business proposals from American companies, despite U.S. prohibitions against such transactions, McWilliams said.

He also found interview requests from journalists and obscene messages from angry Americans.

But the account also attracted admirers, including some who requested signed photographs.

Los Angeles Times Articles