Sony “made a mistake” in caving to North Korean hackers, President Obama said bluntly this morning during his year-end news conference. He said the United States “will respond proportionally” to the cyber attack on the studio — which included threatening to harm moviegoers — “at a place and time we choose.” The studio’s handling of the hack was the very first question White House press corps asked Obama at the annual year-in-review, which speaks to how seriously the situation is being taken in Washington.
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States” he said in an extremely strong answer to a question about the hack of the studio. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or a news report that they don’t like — or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.
“Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage, threats against some employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns they faced. Having said that, yes I think they made a mistake,” Obama said this morning when asked just that.
“That’s not what America is about…I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks’.”
Obama promised the government will respond to the attack. “They caused a lot of damage and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference,” he said.
But, he advised Hollywood, “We can’t start changing our patterns behavior any more than stop going to football game because might be possibility of terrorist attack…Let’s not get into that way of doing business.
” It says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state launch an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them, I think, gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.” (Obama actually pronounced Franco’s last name as “Flacco,” likely confusing him with NFL quarterback Joe Flacco.)
This morning, the FBI officially declared North Korea to blame for the hacking attack against Sony. “North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves,” the agency said in a detailed statement. “Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.” The agency said tools used in the attack are similar to a March ’13 cyber attack against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.
On Thursday, the White House had said it’s important the United States government not play into the hands of those responsible for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment by over-reacting. At his daily White House briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to pin the attack on the North Korean government — an announcement the media eagerly was anticipating out of the Justice Department. The investigation was being conducted by the FBI and the Department of Justice into who is behind the attack, which also included a threat on the lives of anyone who attended the Christmas Day opening of the studio’s movie.
“I can tell you that, consistent with the president’s previous statements about how we will protect against, monitor and respond to cyber incidents, this is something that’s being treated as a serious national security issue,” Earnest said. In re those who are conducting the government’s investigation, “First of all — as we would be in any scenario like that … they would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response,” Earnest said. “Sophisticated actors, when carry out actions like this, are oftentimes … seeking to provoke a response from the United States of America,” he said. “They may believe that a response from us, in one fashion or another, would be advantageous to them. And so we need to be mindful of that.”
Related Sony Hack: A Timeline
The media was impatient for a headline about North Korea’s role in the cyber attack on Sony, over the release of its comedy movie The Interview, about a bumbling talk show host and his producer who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Asked at yesterday’s briefing what is President Obama’s position on a comedy movie that depicts the assassination of an actual leader of a country, Earnest responded patiently:
“The president and the administration stand squarely on the side of artists and other private citizens who seek to freely express their views. Sometimes those viewers can be laced with criticism, or are sometimes intended to provoke either some kind of either comedic response or one that is intended to be some element of pretty biting social commentary. All of that is appropriate and well within the right of private citizens to express their views.”