NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — During a year-end news conference, President Barack Obama said he thinks Sony Pictures Entertainment made a mistake by canceling the release of “The Interview.”
Obama said we can’t have a society in which “some dictator some place can start imposing censorship in the United States.”
“Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced,” he said. “Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.”
The president spoke a few hours after the FBI formally accused North Korea of being responsible for the devastating hacking attack against Sony, providing the most detailed accounting to date of the hugely expensive break-in.
“We can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack,” Obama said. “I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.”
Obama vowed that the U.S. will respond to North Korea “in a place and manner and time that we choose.”
Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton said company officials did everything they could to continue with plans to release the film on Christmas day.
“We have not caved. We have not given in. We have preserved. And we have not Backed down. We have, we have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie,” Lynton said.
The FBI’s statement cited, among other factors, technical similarities between the Sony break-in and past “malicious cyber activity” linked directly to North Korea, including a prior cyber attack against South Korean banks and media.
“Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart,” the statement said. “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.”
Administration officials had previously declined to openly blame North Korea but said they were weighing various options for a response.
The break-in resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials.
It also prompted Sony to cancel the release of “The Interview” after the hacker group calling itself Guardians of Peace threatened moviegoers with violence reminiscent of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The New York premiere of the film was set to take place Thursday night at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on East Houston Street.
The Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy is about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
After Sony canceled the film’s release, hackers sent a new email praising the studio’s decision as “very wise” and saying its data would be safe “as long as you make no more trouble.”
The message warned the studio to “never” release the film “in any form,” including on DVD. The email was confirmed Friday by a person close to the studio who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter and requested anonymity. An FBI spokesman said authorities are aware of the email and are investigating.
As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Lynton said that an on-demand release of the film is still possible, but Sony needs a willing distributor to step forward first.
“We would still like the public to see this movie. Absolutely,” he said.
North Korea has denied being responsible but earlier this month referred to the cyberattack as a “righteous deed.” A North Korean diplomat to the United Nations, Kim Un Chol, declined to comment Friday about the FBI’s accusations.
The statement Friday did not reveal what options were being considered but did say the government would “impose costs and consequences.”
It’s not immediately clear what action, if any, the government will take. Bringing the shadowy hackers to justice appears a distant prospect. A U.S. cyberretaliation against North Korea would risk a dangerous escalation and North Korea is already targeted by a raft of sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
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