The Beijing-directed operation allegedly targeted Lynas Rare Earth and other mining firms in a bid to derail the supply chain in the United States. Chinese agents used thousands of phony social media accounts to whip up opposition to the project, the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, which the Department of Defense praised for bringing the operation to light, wrote.
“The campaign used inauthentic social media and forum accounts, including those posing as residents in Texas to feign concern over environmental and health issues surrounding the plant,” wrote Mandiant.
Fascinating. Pro-Chinese agents posed as concerned local residents on social media to try and spark protests over the opening of rare earth mines in the US and Canada, a report found https://t.co/tiSVuW6AdR via @bpolitics
— Henry Sanderson (@hjesanderson) June 29, 2022
Mandiant, which uncovered the failed scheme, dubbed the Chinese operation “Dragonbridge.” Australia-based Lynas, the largest rare earth mining company in the world, has a $30 million defense contract to build a facility in Texas, according to Reuters. The Chinese agents allegedly used the fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to spread unfounded fears of environmental damage and radiation they claimed could cause cancer, gene mutation, and newborn deformities.
Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the U.S., called the accusations slander.
“China is one of the biggest victims of disinformation,” Liu told The Washington Times. “China always opposes the creation and dissemination of disinformation. There are some people and forces in the world who are keen to fabricate rumors, slander and discredit China.”
China has long sought to control the global market for rare earth minerals, which are needed for manufacturing fighter jets, submarines, smartphones, televisions, electric vehicles, medical equipment, and other high-tech products.
The Pentagon is trying to bolster U.S. production of the materials, and signed the deal with Lynas as part of the effort. The company claims the Texas operation could produce enough rare earth minerals to cover a quarter of the world’s demand, per Reuters.
Mandiant said “Dragonbridge” was also behind fake accounts aimed at stopping a project in Saskatchewan by Canadian mining company Appia Rare Earths & Uranium and an Oklahoma project by USA Rare Earth.
“DoD appreciates the diligence of Mandiant in identifying this disinformation campaign, and will continue to work with our partners to provide accurate information related to this and other supply chain investments,” the Pentagon said.