Geopolitical tensions, Russia’s war on Ukraine, rising resource nationalism in the Southern hemisphere – against the backdrop of ever-increasing stakes it appears that a new theater in the global resource wars has opened up: Cyber warfare, and more specifically, according to Defense One, “weaponized NIMBYism.”
The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that it is investigating a recently-unearthed disinformation campaign against Australian company Lynas Rare Earths, which is contracted to construct a REE separation facility in Texas.
Cybersecurity firm Mandiant first reported the efforts of Dragonbridge, a network of “thousands of inauthentic accounts across numerous social media platforms, websites, and forums that have promoted various narratives in support of the political interests of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” targeting the Australian Miner with content aimed at discrediting the company’s environmental record and instigating local protests of the company’s planned processing facility by posing as local residents on social media.
While, according to Mandiant, the campaign to date hasn’t been particularly sophisticated, the company has warned that its analysts expect the network to refine its technique as broadens its effort. In June, Dragonbridge began targeting additional REE mining companies, notably Canadian Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp., which is exploring a project in Saskatchewan, Canada, and American REE supplier USA Rare Earth, LLC., with a REE mining project in Texas and a planned processing and magnet manufacturing facility in Oklahoma, with similar disinformation and negative messaging campaigns.
As Metal Tech News’s Shane Lasley writes in a new piece for the publication, “[g]iven the economic and geopolitical clout rare earths provide the People’s Republic of China, it is no surprise that the government would sponsor a social media attack on projects that threaten this leverage.”
Followers of ARPN are well-aware of China’s long-standing near-total supply chain monopoly on Rare Earths and know that Beijing is no stranger to weaponizing these tech metals. The fact that it now appears to engage in cyber warfare aimed at private companies leveraging a “unique attack vector” by weaponizing the NIMBY sentiment should place industry stakeholders and policymakers on high alert, because as John Hultquist, vice president of Mandiant Threat Intelligence, told Defense One:
“One of the things that’s distinct about Chinese activity, compared to some of their peers, is that they’re always highly economically focused. There’s a whole new group of targets that probably don’t have strong experience dealing with this problem. As that process gets underway, more industries will find themselves the same sort of strategic situation that rare earth metals are now.”
In the words of Metal Tech News’s Lasley, “the China rare earths dragon awakens.” The question is, are we ready?