A forged letter from Sen. Marco Rubio, false news sites criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, and fake social media accounts are all part of a complex pro-China information operation revealed by the cybersecurity firm Mandiant on Thursday.
Mandiant said it found 72 suspected false news sites targeting audiences in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia with messages critical of the U.S. and boosting China.
The new report authored by Mandiant analysts Ryan Serabian and Daniel Zafra said a Chinese public relations 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 been critical of 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 its report.
The pro-China information operation used a suspected fake Twitter persona, Jonas Drosten, to smear Mr. Zenz. The account falsely alleged in December 2021 that Mr. Rubio, Florida Republican, and former White House strategist Steve Bannon routed money to Mr. Zenz through the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
China Daily, Chinese state-run media, then amplified these bogus 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 has suspended the false Drosten account.
“I am not surprised that I was targeted by China once again,” Mr. Rubio told The Washington Times in a statement. “It is important to expose these networks. Even sloppy efforts can cause confusion, and you can be certain the Chinese Communist Party will continue to slander its opponents in increasingly sophisticated ways.”
The HaiEnergy campaign not only targeted Republicans but also slammed Mrs. Pelosi and looked to fuel outrage over the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized abortion rights.
Two false news sites published articles criticizing Mrs. Pelosi’s Taiwan trip on Monday and said that she should “stay away from Taiwan,” according to Mandiant.
Mandiant said it also spotted an English-language article written by someone claiming to be an American woman living outside the U.S. who said U.S. law enforcement violently responded to protesters demonstrating against the Supreme Court’s decision undoing abortion rights.
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 such activity to third parties.
The Chinese public relations firm Haixun, which Mandiant said is behind the campaign, offers its services in at least 40 different languages across more than 100 countries including packages targeting English speakers and producing custom content and videos.