President Obama is calling the Sony hack – which Washington believes to be the work of North Korea – an act of cyber vandalism, but not an act of war:
President Obama says in an interview to be broadcast Sunday morning that he did not think the Sony Pictures hack was not an act of war by North Korea.
“I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive,” Obama said on CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley,” according to a transcript. “We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately, as I said.”
Responding proportionately might be a tad difficult, given that North Korea doesn’t have much in the way of an Internet and placing more sanctions on the country would be the economic equivalent of making the rubble bounce:
President Barack Obama vowed Friday to punish North Korea for hacking a Hollywood studio, but Washington’s options are limited and Pyongyang’s economic weakness is a surprising strength.
No one expects the United States to launch a military strike against a nuclear-armed provocateur, but sanctions against its tiny economy or cyber attacks on its ramshackle Internet would achieve little.
“I’m sure they’re exploring covert options, but also looking at it through the prism of — ‘we don’t want to start an armed conflict on the Korean peninsula’,” said cyber war expert James Lewis.
The United States is apparently asking for China’s help in dealing with North Korean cyberattacks. Somehow, I don’t see that help coming anytime soon.
Over at One Free Korea, Joshua does a good job of outlining some of the options that are available for the enterprising U.S. policymaker interested in sticking it to North Korea, including putting North Korea back on the terrorism list and slapping real sanctions on the North. Read the post in its entirety on your own.
RAND, State Department involvement
Interestingly enough, it appears a North Korea expert at RAND Corporation and some U.S. State Department official screened the film and encouraged Sony to keep the final assassination scene in the film so that when the DVDs make their way to North Korea, some folk up there might get some ideas:
A series of leaked emails reveal that Sony enlisted the services of Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation who specializes in North Korea, to consult with them on The Interview. After he saw the film, including the gruesome ending where a giant missile hits Kim Jong-Un’s helicopter in slow-mo as Katy Perry’s “Firework” plays, and Kim’s head catches on fire and explodes, Bennett gave his assessment of it in a June 25 email to Lynton, just five days after North Korea’s initial threat.
“The North has never executed an artillery attack against the balloon launching areas. So it is very hard to tell what is pure bluster from North Korea, since they use the term ‘act of war’ so commonly,” wrote Bennett. “I also thought a bunch more about the ending. I have to admit that the only resolution I can see to the North Korean nuclear and other threats is for the North Korean regime to eventually go away.”
He added, “In fact, when I have briefed my book on ‘preparing for the possibility of a North Korean collapse’ [Sept 2013], I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong-Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will). So from a personal perspective, I would personally prefer to leave the ending alone.”
According to emails, somebody high-up at State Department agreed with Bennett’s assessment, and it also turns out Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues, consulted on the film and Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, talked with Sony about it.
Imagine how the U.S. and its CIA would respond if a major movie studio anywhere in the world were to make a film centered around the assassination of a sitting U.S. President: especially if a foreign government was involved, pushing for just such an assassination. That North Korea, or any state, might respond with speech-suppressing attacks and threats is not to be excused, but it should be no surprise either. Yet the US was more than happy to help foment a predictable crisis like this, thereby putting its own people at risk. And it did so by surreptitiously penetrating Hollywood to steer it toward using “artistic” existential threats to taunt a nation-state that is such a basket-case that it would only be dangerous to Americans if made desperate by such existential threats. That shows what little regard our “security force” has for our actual security, as compared to pursuing global power politics.
While it wasn’t produced by a major studio, a British filmmaker did do a mockumentary about the assassination of President Bush, which the Washington Post and, apparently, some international film festivals loved. And to be frank, while I don’t think it’s a good thing for studios to make films about the assassination of sitting heads of state (and agree with Adrian Hong that North Korea is no laughing matter), and much less so when the U.S. government is involved, I’d feel a lot worse about it if the country being targeted wasn’t a country whose national pastime used to be trying to assassinate South Korean presidents.
(HT to, well, I’m not really sure what to call you. But you know who you are)
UPDATE: Oh, and North Korea is offering to conduct a joint investigation:
KCNA quoted the foreign ministry as saying: “As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident.
“Without resorting to such tortures as were used by the CIA, we have means to prove that this incident has nothing to do with us.”
Oh, I see what they did there. They made a “CIA torture” joke.
Granted, the North Koreans never admit to anything upfront, and I do think it’s very likely that either North Korea or some North Korean front group like Chongryon is behind the hack. Still, I’m far from certain about that, and there’s still plenty of reason to think otherwise.