Chinese Agents Pose as Texans to Disrupt Rare Earth Industry
A group of Chinese agents used fake social media accounts to pose as concerned Texas residents in an effort to stop the construction of a rare earth minerals refinery in Texas, finds cybersecurity firm Mandiant.
The online disinformation campaign targeted companies including Lynas Rare Earths, which already has a contract with the Defense Department to build a new facility in Texas.
Using thousands of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts, Chinese agents claimed the new facility would cause irreversible environmental damage and expose locals to harmful chemicals that could cause birth defects, radiation poisoning, and cancer.
According to Mandiant, the scheme was designed to weaken supply chains already impacted by the pandemic.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, denied the accusation and claimed Beijing was “one of the biggest victims of disinformation.” The attack on Lynas was obviously brought by “forces in the world” that are “keen to fabricate rumors, slander, and discredit China.”
Ironically, the attempted sabotage lines up with China’s efforts to dominate the market for rare earth minerals – an industry in which Beijing already controls more than 80% of global production.
Rare earth minerals (also known as REEs) are metallic elements with unique conductive, fluorescent, and magnetic properties that make them particularly useful when alloyed with more common metals, like iron. REEs are vital in the manufacture of hi-tech devices like smartphones, LEDs, super magnets, and missiles.
The Pentagon confirmed Mandiant’s findings as accurate last week.