Chinese agents pretending to be concerned Texans executed an online disinformation campaign against a company building a rare earth minerals facility in Texas for the Department of Defense, the cybersecurity firm Mandiant revealed on Tuesday. The Pentagon later released a statement confirming Mandiant’s findings.
Mandiant found that agents for a pro-China disinformation campaign used fake social media accounts to cast doubt on Lynas Rare Earth Ltd. and other mining firms in an effort to weaken the rare earth minerals supply chain in the United States and elsewhere.
Lynas is the largest rare earth mining company in the world and currently has a contract with the Pentagon to build a facility in Texas.
Mandiant said Chinese actors lied about being local Texans online in order to stir up opposition to Lynas building a rare earth minerals plant in Texas. They used thousands of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to claim the plant would cause permanent environmental damage, in addition to exposing residents to harmful contamination that could cause cancer, gene mutation and newborn deformities.
The accounts “promoted various narratives in support of the political interests of the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” Mandiant said.
“We observed accounts post primarily in English, with an additional lesser amount of content in Chinese,” Mandiant said in a report on the campaign. “Additionally, we observed extremely limited messaging in Malay, and Dragonbridge accounts promoted photos of demonstrations against Lynas that took place in Malaysia sometime between 2012 and 2019, due to controversy surrounding the disposal of radioactive waste produced by its rare earths processing facility in the city of Kuantan.”
“Dragonbridge” is a code name used by Mandiant to identify Chinese disinformation efforts.
Liu Pengyu, a Chinese Embassy spokesman, said that while he has not seen Mandiant’s report, he thinks it is the result of “forces in the world” that want to slander China.
“China is one of the biggest victims of disinformation,” Liu said in an email, according to 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.”
The disinformation campaign comes as China moves to dominate the market for rare earth minerals, which are used in numerous tech productions, including smartphones, TVs, medical equipment, water treatment systems and more.
“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’s statement read.