President Obama described North Korea’s alleged hack of Sony Pictures as “cybervandalism” rather than an act of war in comments aired Sunday, but added that the U.S. was contemplating putting Pyongyang back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
In an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, the president said Washington would “review” the position of North Korea, adding: “we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day.”
It comes as the White House weighs its response to the hacking of Sony Pictures and threats that led the company to cancel its release of The Interview — a spoofing a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un
"It was an act of cybervandalism," Obama said of the hack. “Sometimes, this is a matter of setting a tone, and being very clear that we’re not going to be intimidated by some cyberhackers.”
While he said the U.S. “will respond proportionately” to North Korea’s alleged move, he reiterated his previous assertion that Sony should not have pulled the movie from theaters. The people behind the cyberattack — who have gone by the name Guardians Of Peace but have been linked by U.S. authorities to Pyongyang — had threatened to attack those attending screenings of the film
Obama said Friday in a news conference that Sony had made "a mistake" in canceling the movie, and that he wished the company had contacted him first.
North Korea has denied that it is behind the hack, and challenged Washington to be part of a joint probe into the matter. Pyongyang warned of “serious consequences” should Washington reject its offer.
Meanwhile, the White House mulls its response.
North Korea was on the state sponsors of terror list for two decades until the George W. Bush administration removed it in 2008 during nuclear negotiations. Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba are the only remaining countries on the list, which calls for sanctions that limit U.S. aid.
In order to meet the criteria that would put North Korea back on the list, the State Department would have to determine that the country has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism. That designation could be a difficult one, since the U.S. has traditionally referred to terrorism as violent, physical attacks rather than hacking.
North Korea did threaten to strike back if the U.S. retaliated, according to a statement from its National Defense Commission.
President Obama told CNN on Sunday that Sony’s cancellation of the movie’s release set a harmful precedent by appeasing a dictator.
"If we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt through cyber, a company's distribution chain or its products, and as a consequence we start censoring ourselves, that's a problem," Obama said.
"So the key here is not to suggest that Sony was a bad actor. It's making a broader point that all of us have to adapt to the possibility of cyberattacks, we have to do a lot more to guard against them."
In response, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lyton told CNN that the president and the public “are mistaken as to what actually happened,” and said that the movie theaters that refused to show the film forced Sony to pull it from theaters.
With wire services