Obama considers putting North Korea back on terrorism list after Sony hack

The president fell short of calling the hack an act of terrorism, however, provoking strong responses from Republicans.

President Barack Obama says the United States is reviewing whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism as Washington decides how to respond to what he calls an "act of cybervandalism," not one of war, against a movie company.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, which said it canceled the theatrical release of "The Interview" after distributors refused to show it, pledged to find a way to get the film out. "How it's going to be distributed, I don't think anybody knows quite yet," a Sony lawyer said. The comedy involves a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader.

Obama is promising to respond "proportionately" to an attack that law enforcement blames on North Korea. "We're not going to be intimidated by some cyberhackers," he said.

The president said the U.S. would examine the facts to determine whether North Korea should land back on the terrorism sponsors list.

"We're going to review those through a process that's already in place," Obama told CNN's "State of the Union" in an interview broadcast Sunday. "I'll wait to review what the findings are."

While raising the possibility of a terrorism designation, Obama also asserted, "I don't think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously."

Obama's description drew immediate scorn from two Republicans who are longtime critics of his foreign policy.

"It is a new form of warfare, and we have to counter with that form of warfare with a better form of warfare," said Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called it "an act of terrorism" and favored reimposing sanctions and adding North Korea to the terrorism list. The U.S. needs to "make is so hard on the North Koreans that they don't want to do this in the future."

North Korea spent two decades on the list until the Bush administration removed it in 2008 during nuclear negotiations. Only Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba remain on the list, which triggers sanctions that limit U.S. aid, defense exports and certain financial transactions.

But adding North Korea back could be difficult. To meet the criteria, the State Department must determine that a country has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, a definition that traditionally has referred to violent, physical attacks rather than hacking.

North Korea threatened to strike back at the United States if Obama retaliated, the National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency. The statement offered no details of a possible response.

The U.S. is asking China for help as it considers how to respond to the hack. A senior Obama administration official says the U.S. and China have shared information about the attack and that Washington has asked for Beijing's cooperation.

The official was not authorized to comment by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

China wields considerable leverage over North Korea, but Obama has accused China of carrying out cyberthefts, too.

In the CNN interview, taped Friday in Washington before Obama left to vacation in Hawaii, Obama renewed his criticism of Sony's decision to shelve "The Interview," despite the company's insistence that its hand was forced after movie theaters refused to show it.

Obama suggested he might have been able to help address the problem if given the chance. "You know, had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what that story was," he said.

Sony's CEO has disputed that the company never reached out, saying he spoke to a senior White House adviser about the situation before Sony announced the decision. White House officials said Sony did discuss cybersecurity with the federal government, but that the White House was never consulted on the decision not to distribute the film.

"Sometimes this is a matter of setting a tone and being very clear that we're not going to be intimidated by some, you know, cyberhackers," Obama said. "And I expect all of us to remember that and operate on that basis going forward."

David Boies, a Sony lawyer, said "The Interview" is "going to be distributed, and what Sony has been trying to do is to get the picture out to the public," while protecting the rights of company employers and moviegoers.

Boies said theaters "quite understandably" decided not to show the film as scheduled because of the threats. "You can't release a movie unless you have a distribution channel," he said.

North Korea has denied hacking the studio, and on Saturday proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. to determine the true culprit. The White House rejected the idea and said it was confident North Korea was responsible.

But the next decision — how to respond — is hanging over the president as he vacations with his family in Hawaii.

Obama's options are limited. The U.S. already has trade penalties in place and there is no appetite for military action.

"I think we've got to recognize that this is not a Sony security problem. This is a national security problem," Boies said.

Boies appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," Graham was on CBS' "Face the Nation" and McCain spoke on CNN.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.