President Barack Obama said Friday in his year-end news conference that he believes Sony Pictures erred in its decision to cancel the release of "The Interview." The movie depicts a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Sony delayed its theatrical release after threats made by hackers that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has linked to North Korea.
Obama said he was sympathetic to the fact that Sony “suffered significant damage” and was worried about threats made against its employees. Nevertheless, he was frank in his criticism of the company's leadership: “I think they made a mistake,” Obama said.
"I wish they would have spoken to me first," he said. "We can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we can stop going to a football game because of the possibility of a terrorist attack."
"We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the U.S.," Obama added.
The embattled company countered the president in a statement late Friday, saying that the decision not to screen the film was made by the theater owners and not by Sony.
"We had no choice," without theaters' cooperation, Sony said, stressing that "is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment."
Sony said it hopes to release the film on "another platform" and that anyone who wants to see the move "will get the opportunity to do so."
North Korea, for its part, said it had nothing to do with the Sony cyberattack. A North Korean diplomat at the United Nations spoke with Reuters on Friday after the U.S. government blamed Pyongyang for the incident. "DPRK (North Korea) is not part of this," the diplomat said. He declined to comment further.
Obama warned North Korea that the United States will respond, and he said that any response would be "proportionate and appropriate to the nature of this crime."
The FBI, in a statement issued Friday linking North Korea to the cyberattack, did not indicate how it planned prosecute those responsible.
The "destructive nature" of the attack coupled with "its coercive nature" set it apart from previous attacks, the FBI said. "As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions," the statement said.
The FBI announcement is the first official statement blaming North Korea for the cyberattack. Federal officials said they found similarities between the tools used in the Sony attack and previous hacks linked to North Korea.
The FBI said it observed "significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. Government has previously linked directly to North Korea."
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities also found a possible Chinese link to the cyberattack, a U.S. official said earlier Friday. But the president contradicted that, saying, “We have no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.”
China also issued a statement Friday saying it does not support illegal cyber action committed within its borders. Representatives of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., in a statement to Reuters, also urged the U.S. to share evidence in the hacking case against the major Hollywood studio.
The break-in resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials, and escalated to threats against theaters that led Sony to cancel the Christmas release of "The Interview."
Al Jazeera and wire services