Pro-China group attacks U.S. rare earth factory in fake social media posts

A pro-China government group has posed as environmental activists on social media platforms in a bid to undermine rare earth producers in the United States and Canada, according to a cybersecurity consultancy.

Mandiant said the group behind the attacks, known as Dragonbridge, used fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to claim that a US government-funded rare earths refinery in Texas being built by the Australian group Lynas Rare Earths “would expose the region to irreversible environmental damage” and “radioactive contamination”.

Mandiant described Dragonbridge as a “pro-People’s Republic of China (PRC) network,” but did not identify it further. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank corroborated Mandiant’s report to the Financial Times.

The United States and its allies in Europe and Asia are working to build supply chains that bypass China for critical minerals such as lithium, rare earths and cobalt, which are vital for energy technologies renewables, electric vehicles and high-tech military equipment.

China dominates the processing of these minerals, which has raised concerns in the United States as diplomatic and trade relations with Beijing have soured in recent years.

Mandiant’s findings were corroborated by Albert Zhang, a cyberpolicy expert at think tank ASPI who has been following Dragonbridge since 2019.

“This is the first time that this persistent Chinese Communist Party-backed network . . . has targeted a business entity for strategic purposes,” he wrote in a report released Wednesday.

Zhang said the info ops were “part of a larger coordinated effort to undermine democratic attempts to reduce reliance on Chinese rare earth exports.”

Dragonbridge first came to Mandiant’s attention in 2019 with social media campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube against anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The group has since branched out into a variety of areas, including the Covid-19 pandemic and US politics.

“Recently, we identified and investigated a subset of information operations activities that we attribute to the Dragonbridge social media campaign,” Mandiant said in a blog post.

The cybersecurity firm said it also monitored campaigns against rare earth companies Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp and USA Rare Earth, and against US President Joe Biden’s Defense Production Act, a law from the time of the Korean War under which Washington aims to increase domestic production. of critical minerals.

Mandiant said the campaigns used “inauthentic social media and forum accounts, including those posing as Texas residents to feign concern about environmental and health issues surrounding the plant.”

A Facebook post, claiming to be from a person named Cox Teri but who Mandiant claims was created by Dragonbridge, read: “My friends and I resisted the construction of a rare earth processing plant in Texas by Lynas. If nothing is done, the discharge of waste from Lynas will directly or indirectly affect the health of local residents, and this pollution is irreversible.

Lynas said in a statement that he had been “the subject of disinformation campaigns in Malaysia for some years, however, this is the first time we have seen evidence of direct links between fake social media accounts spreading misinformation and political agendas”. She defended her environmental record in Malaysia, which was the subject of a report by Greenpeace in 2014.

The U.S. Department of Defense said it “appreciates Mandiant’s diligence in identifying this disinformation campaign and will continue to work with our partners to provide accurate information about this and other chain investments.” supply”.

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