Obama Says Sony Should Not Have Pulled Film Over Threats

December 19, 2014

Updated at 2:25 p.m. ET

President Obama called Sony’s decision to pull its film, The Interview, following threats to movie theaters that show the film, a “mistake.”

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” the president said in his year-end news conference.

He added that he was “sympathetic” about their concerns, but, “I wish they would have spoken to me first.”

Earlier Friday, the FBI said it has enough information to confirm that North Korea was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures.

The agency tied the attack to North Korea because the malware used in the attack had the hallmarks of software written by the country in the past.

“For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,” the FBI said in a statement.

The tools used, the agency said, also had similarities to a cyberattack that took place in March of last year against banks in South Korea.

The hack has caused serious repercussions for Sony. The stolen data have made public some embarrassing emails written by its executives. Hackers also leaked unreleased movies and scripts.

The group that took responsibility for the attack, “Guardians of Peace,” said it was responding to Sony Pictures’ comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After the group issued threats to attack movie theaters that show the film, major movie chains pulled The Interview and Sony decided against a Christmas Day release.

“We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private-sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there,” the FBI said. “Further, North Korea’s attack on [Sony] reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States.”

In a separate statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the hack “underscores the importance of good cybersecurity practices to rapidly detect cyber intrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks.

“Every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company’s cybersecurity,” he added.

Immediately following the FBI announcement, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., criticized the White House for not imposing tough financial sanctions on North Korea.

“North Korea is attacking our infrastructure,” Royce said in a statement. “It is also attacking our values. The decision to pull ‘The Interview’ from theatres unfortunately is a North Korean victory in its attack on our freedom. We better quickly respond comprehensively to defend freedom of speech in the face of terrorist threats and cyber attacks.”

Options, though, are limited. The U.S. could impose new financial sanctions on Pyongyang and boost military support to South Korea. Yet these moves have had little impact on the heavily sanctioned country in the past.

CNN reported earlier today that the hackers behind the attack issued another statement today, praising Sony for pulling the movie. Removing it from screens, the hackers said in an email to Sony executives, was a “very wise” decision.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.