WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama moved to prevent U.S. anger at North Korea from spiraling out of control yesterday by saying the massive hacking of Sony Pictures was not an act of war but instead was cyber-vandalism.
Washington’s longstanding dispute with North Korea, which for years has centered on its nuclear weapons program, has entered new territory with the accusation that Pyongyang carried out an assault on a major Hollywood entertainment company.
Obama and his advisers are weighing how to punish North Korea after the FBI concluded on Friday that Pyongyang was responsible. North Korea has denied it was to blame.
The U.S. president put the hack in the context of a crime.
“No, I don’t think it was an act of war,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that aired on Sunday. “I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive.
We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately.”
Obama said one option was to return North Korea to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, from which Pyongyang was removed six years ago.
North Korea vowed yesterday to hit back against any U.S. retaliation.
“Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the ‘symmetric counteraction’ declared by Obama,” according to North Korea state news agency KCNA.
The hack attack and subsequent threats of violence against theaters showing the film prompted Sony to withdraw a comedy, “The Interview,” prepared for release to movie theaters during the holiday season.
The movie depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Obama and free speech advocates criticized the studio’s decision, but Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended it, saying U.S. theaters did not want to show it