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Professional-China group assaults US uncommon earths plant in pretend social media posts

A professional-Chinese language authorities group has impersonated environmental campaigners on social media platforms in an effort to undermine uncommon earths producers within the US and Canada, in response to a cyber safety consultancy.

Mandiant mentioned the group behind the assaults, often known as Dragonbridge, had used pretend Fb and Twitter accounts to assert a US government-funded uncommon earths refinery in Texas being built by Australian group Lynas Uncommon Earths would “expose the world to irreversible environmental injury” and “radioactive contamination”.

Mandiant described Dragonbridge as a “pro-Folks’s Republic of China (PRC) community” however didn’t determine it in additional element. The Australian Strategic Coverage Institute think-tank corroborated Mandiant’s report back to the Monetary Instances.

The US and its allies in Europe and Asia are working to construct provide chains that bypass China for crucial minerals comparable to lithium, rare earths and cobalt, that are important to renewable vitality expertise, electrical autos and high-tech army gear.

China dominates the processing of those minerals, which has raised issues within the US as diplomatic and commerce relations with Beijing have deteriorated lately.

Mandiant’s findings had been corroborated by Albert Zhang, a cyber coverage professional at think-tank the ASPI who has been following Dragonbridge since 2019.

“That is the primary time this persistent Chinese language Communist party-backed community . . . has focused a business entity for strategic functions,” he wrote in a report printed on Wednesday.

Zhang mentioned the data operations had been “one a part of a broader co-ordinated effort to undermine democratic makes an attempt to cut back dependence on Chinese language uncommon earths exports”.

Dragonbridge first got here to Mandiant’s consideration in 2019 with social media campaigns on Fb, Twitter and YouTube opposing anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The group has since branched out into a spread of areas together with the Covid-19 pandemic and US politics.

“Lately, we recognized and investigated a subset of knowledge operations exercise we attribute to the Dragonbridge marketing campaign throughout social media,” Mandiant mentioned in a blog post.

The cyber safety agency mentioned it had additionally monitored campaigns towards uncommon earths corporations Appia Uncommon Earths & Uranium Corp and USA Uncommon Earth, and towards US president Joe Biden’s Protection Manufacturing Act, a Korean war-era regulation below which Washington is aiming to extend home manufacturing of crucial minerals.

Mandiant mentioned the campaigns had used “inauthentic social media and discussion board accounts, together with these posing as residents in Texas to feign concern over environmental and well being points surrounding the plant”.

One Fb put up, purporting to be from somebody named Cox Teri however which Mandiant claimed was created by Dragonbridge, learn: “My buddies and I’ve been resisting the development of a uncommon earth processing plant in Texas by Lynas. If nothing is finished, Lynas’s waste discharge will immediately or not directly have an effect on the well being of native residents, and this air pollution is irreversible.”

Lynas mentioned in an announcement it had been “the topic of disinformation campaigns in Malaysia for some years, nonetheless, that is the primary time we now have seen proof of direct hyperlinks between pretend social media accounts spreading disinformation and political agendas”. It defended its environmental document in Malaysia, which was the topic of a report by Greenpeace in 2014.

The US Division of Protection mentioned it “appreciates the diligence of Mandiant in figuring out this disinformation marketing campaign, and can proceed to work with our companions to offer correct info associated to this and different provide chain investments”.

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