Asia Politics, North America Politics, Politics

The Interview: Is Sony Being Blackmailed by North Korea?

obama-kim jung-un
Obama-Kim Jung-un

The FBI has accused North Korea of being behind the “Guardians of Peace” who claimed responsibility for hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment‘s server network, and President Barack Obama has vowed to take retaliatory action against North Korea. He stressed that Sony made a mistake in in reacting to threats from a dictator by cancelling the release of The Interview.

Michael Lynton Sony’s CEO criticized President Obama’s statement, but said that Sony may still release The Interview. This changes nothing because the fact that a satirical movie was at all cancelled following threats from the hackers is a very worrying precedent. Sony originally offered security fears as their reason for cancelling the release of the film.

Are there real security issues with a general release of the movie?
Although the hackers warned cinemagoers not to watch the movie and reminded them about the 9/11 terror attack, the FBI and US Homeland Security Department said that there was no evidence of any credible terror plot or attack against US cinemagoers.

So why has Sony taken such a drastic measure?
There is speculation that safety fears are a cover for the real reason behind Sony’s decision to the movie release: Blackmail. Commentators believe Sony is being blackmailed by hackers who have very sensitive and damaging ‘nuclear’ information about Sony.

Is the blackmail theory true?

What did the hackers take?
100 terabytes of files and information were downloaded by the hackers from Sony’s servers. This is the equivalent of 10 times the entire printed collection of the US Library of Congress. Some of the information taken by the hackers include personnel files containing Sony employees personal information, sensitive internal communications as well as film scripts.

What next for the hackers?
The hackers have released some of the hacked information such as emails which have cause major embarrassment and threatened the careers of some Sony executives. The hackers threatened to release even more damaging information if Sony did not pull the plug on The Interview. The hackers have also threatened Sony staff pointing out that they now have staff home addresses and could harm their children and families.

Did the hackers act alone?
The staggering volume of information taken by the hackers suggests that there Sony is compromised internally – there must have been either a ‘mole’ inside Sony helping the hackers transfer the large volume of data or an infected computer. There is also speculation that North Korea carried out the attack probably with other nations like China, Russia or Iran.

Is there anything the US government can do?
The retaliatory options of the US government against North Korea are very limited. North Korea is already an almost completely isolated country partly due to US sanctions. There isn’t much more the US government can do (see timeline of US-North Korea relations below).

Timeline US-North Korea relations
1882 The US becomes the first Western power to establish diplomatic relations with Korea.
1945 At the end of World War II the Korean Peninsula was divided into two halves, with the Soviet Union controlling the north and the south under the U.S.
1948 The government in the south declared the establishment of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and later the government in the north established the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
1950 The north invaded the south and UN forces led by the US intervened on behalf of the south. China later intervened on behalf of the DPRK.
1953 An armistice ending hostilities was signed with the establishment of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between the two countries and a permanent US military presence in the south.
1985 North Korea agreed to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but did not complete a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which North Korea later stated would happen only if the US withdrew nuclear weapons from South Korea.
1991 President George H.W. Bush announces the withdrawal of all tactical nuclear weapons abroad, including approximately 100 based in South Korea.
1992 North Korea ratifies the IAEA safeguards agreement and declare the existence of seven nuclear sites and about 90 kilograms of plutonium.
1993 The IAEA demands special inspections, which North Korea initially refuses..
1994 North Korea agrees to allow IAEA inspectors to visit all seven declared nuclear sites, but refuses access to the plutonium processing plant at Yongbyon.
1994 Following negotiations with former US President Jimmy Carter the US and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework – North Korea agreed to freeze its plutonium reprocessing program, allow special inspections, and remove 8000 spent nuclear fuel in exchange for energy assistance from the United States including funding for the construction of light water nuclear reactors (LWRs).
1996-1997 Bilateral US-North Korea talks; US presses for end to North Korea’s sales of missile components and technology and North Korea demanded compensation for lost revenue.
1998 North Korea Taepo-dong 1 rocket carrying the Kwangmyongsong satellite over Japan, and the US and the North Korea meet for missile talks without inconclusive results.
1998 President Clinton appoints former Secretary of Defense William Perry as the US North Korean Policy Coordinator tasked with reviewing U.S. foreign policy towards North Korea.
1999 North Korea agrees to a self-imposed missile moratorium in exchange for the United States partially lifting economic sanctions, which it did in 2000. However, the moratorium did not prohibit missiles sales, which remained robust during this period.
2000 Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, First Vice Chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission visited the United States for missile talks, North Korea reaffirmed the moratorium and both countries issue a joint communiqué.
2002 In a speech President George W Bush includes North Korea in the “Axis of Evil” increasing tension between the two countries.
2002 US suspends energy shipments to North Korea citing violation of the Agreed Framework in response, North Korea declared the 1994 agreement nullified, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2003, and began to reprocess plutonium.
2003 The US, China and North Korea begin trilateral talks over the North’s nuclear program, which then evolved into Six-Party Talks, encompassing Japan, South Korea, and Russia.
2005 North Korea commits to abandoning its nuclear program and return to the NPT in exchange for food and energy assistance from the other Six-Party members.
2006 North Korea test-fires an array of ballistic missiles over the Sea of Japan.
2006 North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test and the United Nations Security Council applies wide range of sanctions on North Korea.
2007 Six-Party Talks resume, North Korea receive BDA funds, IAEA inspectors confirm the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
2008 The Obama administration appoints Stephen Bosworth as Special Representative for North Korea Policy.
2009 North Korea launches multi-stage Unha-2 (modified Taepodong-3) rocket carrying the Kwangmyonsong-2 communications satellite.
2009 North Korea conducts second nuclear test and UNSC unanimously impose stronger sanctions on North Korea.
2009 North Korea announces that it has a uranium enrichment program entering its final phase of testing, thereby giving the DPRK a potential second pathway to developing nuclear weapons.
2010 Torpedo attack from a North Korean midget submarine sinks South Korean naval ship Cheonan killing 46. President Obama expands U.S. economic sanctions against North Korea.
2010 North and South Korea trade artillery fire in the Yellow Sea. The US strongly condemns the attack and reiterated its support and commitment to the defense of South Korea.
2012 North Korea claims it has missiles than can hit the US mainland after Seoul and Washington announce a deal to extend the range of South Korea’s ballistic missiles.
2013 UN approves fresh sanctions after North Korea stages its third nuclear test, said to be more powerful than the 2009 test.
2013 North Korea says it will restart all facilities at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex and withdraws its 53,000-strong workforce from the South-Korean-funded Kaesong joint industrial park stalling operations at 123 South Korean factories.
2013 US citizen Kenneth Bae arrested in 2012 in North Korea is sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
2013 North Korea launches four short-range missiles over one weekend. It also sentences US tour operator Kenneth Bae to hard labor for “anti-government crimes”.
2013 Panama impounds a North Korean ship carrying two MiG-21 jet fighters under bags of sugar. The UN later blacklists the ship’s operator.
2013 North and South Korea reopen Kaesong joint industrial zone which was shut down in April amid heightened tension.
China bans export to North Korea of items that could be used to make missiles or nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
2014 North Korea test-fires two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles for the first time since 2009, in violation of UN resolutions and just hours after the US, South Korea and Japan met in the Netherlands for talks.
2014 Two drones allegedly from North Korea are found in the south, sparking concerns about the north’s intelligence gathering capabilities.
2014 September – IAEA believes Yongbyon nuclear site may be operational again based on analysis of satellite imagery. North Korea test-fires several short-range missiles.
2014 US citizen Matthew Todd Miller is sentenced to six years hard labour after entering the country and tearing up his visa.
2014 October – Officials pay surprise visit to south, agree to resume formal talks that have been suspended since February.
2014 Jeffrey Fowle is released by North Korea after being held for five months.
2014 Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller are released by North Korea.

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