Chinese information operation uses fake news and social media to hammer US, cyber firm says

Fake letter from Sen. Marco Rubio, fake news sites criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, and fake social media accounts are all part of a complex pro-China news operation exposed Thursday by cybersecurity firm Mandiant.

Mandiant said it found 72 suspected fake news sites targeting audiences in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia with messages criticizing America and boosting China.

The new report by Mandiant analysts Ryan Serabian and Daniel Zafra says a Chinese PR firm and a technology company are behind the “HaiEnergy” campaign using 11 different languages.

“The campaign leveraged fabricated content designed to discredit opponents who have criticized the Chinese government, including Chinese businessman Guo Wengui (Miles Kwok) and German anthropologist Adrian Zenz – known for his research on Xinjiang – and China’s reported genocide against the Uyghur population,” Mandiant said in his report.

The pro-China information operation used an alleged fake Twitter persona, Jonas Drosten, to smear Mr Zenz. The account falsely alleged in December 2021 that Mr. Rubio, Republican of Florida, and former White House strategist Steven Bannon funneled money to Mr. Zenz through the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

China Daily, China’s state media, then amplified these false accusations in a May 2022 article claiming that the fake Drosten was a former colleague of Mr. Zenz.

Mr. Rubio’s office said the letter was an obvious fake and Twitter suspended the fake Drosten account.

“I am not surprised to have been targeted again by China,” Mr. Rubio, a Florida Republican, told The Washington Times in a statement. “It is important to expose these networks. Even botched efforts can sow confusion, and you can be sure that the Chinese Communist Party will continue to slander its opponents in increasingly sophisticated ways.

The HaiEnergy campaign not only targeted Republicans, but also criticized Ms Pelosi and sought to fuel outrage over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade of 1973 which recognized the right to abortion.

Two fake news sites published articles on Monday criticizing Ms Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan and said she should “stay away from Taiwan”, according to Mandiant.

Mandiant said he also spotted an English-language article written by someone claiming to be an American living outside the United States who said US law enforcement responded violently to protesters demonstrating against the Supreme Court ruling. revoking the right to abortion.

Mandiant did not directly attribute the cyber influence campaign to the Chinese government and observed that the information operation appeared to represent the continued outsourcing of this activity to third parties.

Chinese PR firm Haixun, which Mandiant says is behind the campaign, offers its services in at least 40 different languages ​​in more than 100 countries, including packages targeting English speakers and producing content and personalized videos.