Corporate Blog

Jack Lifton's Take on the 60 Minutes Rare Earth Expose

It seems like not everyone had high praise for the60 Minutes expose on rare earth. TRER director Jack Lifton feels like they left a great deal out.

The telejournalists of CBS’ iconic 60 Minutes have done a genuine dis-service to American security by failing miserably to do any investigative reporting on the just broadcast segment with the theme: How Did China Corner The Market On A Critical Resource Nearly Every Electronic Device We Use Depends On?

Mr. Lifton’s main problems with the 60 Minutes segment appear to be a lack of explanation about the difference between light and heavy rare earth elements, and a resulting distortion of the actual market effect of Mountain Pass’ continued success or failure.

 

Typical of Mr. Lifton’s writing on rare earths, he emphasizes the specific criticality of the supply-side HREE dearth, and gives an excellent overview of the processing problem that America is facing as part of the rare earth elements supply problem.

The rare earth market isn’t a simple thing to understand and, as Anthony Marchese recently pointed out, it’s not the kind of thing that lends itself to a 15 minute TV news clip. Jack Lifton has an uncanny knack to add very necessary perspective to a developing issue that, paradoxically, nobody has yet applied a solution to.

 

The whole thing is worth a read. Of special interest is Lifton’s anecdote about being thrown out of the Pentagon for being too cost-effective:

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I got involved with the DoD’s concerns in the late noughties of this century. The matter was addressed at a meeting of the Office of Net Threat Assessment in the Pentagon in 2009 to which I was invited as a rare earths “expert.” I was asked how I would address the problem. I answered then that I would first set up a private company to recycle military scrap containing rare earths and then we could address the downstream needs for separation, metals/alloys making and magnet making after a supply of raw materials had been established. “How much would that cost?” I was asked. My reply was a few million dollars. I recall that some of the people present snickered and the group leader, the then 86 year old, Mr Andy Marshall, said that “millions’ are what we spend to “study” the problem. It was then pointed out to me that this might well be a billion dollar venture that will require study and political involvement. I said to the group that they were “nuts” and that even the Four-star general present sounded like problem makers rather than solvers. I was not invited back but even so I still maintain a cordial relationship with some individuals, not directly in government, who I first met at that meeting.