The hack of Sony Pictures, blamed on North Korea by the FBI, was not an act of war, President Obama said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
“I don’t think it was an act of war,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley” in an interview that was recorded on Friday. “I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately, as I said.”
Obama’s remarks are important for framing what might come next.
One of the possibilities, he said, was a return of North Korea to the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list, which automatically imposes certain sanctions on the country and restrictions on interaction with U.S. organizations.
But that’s not a decision that he can make alone. It’s decided by the State Department and weighs a history of support for terrorist acts.
“We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” Obama said. “I’ll wait to review what the findings are.”
Hours before broadcast of the TV interview, North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission issued a statement that again denied any link with the Sony hack but repeated praise for the action of the hacker group, which used the name “Guardians of Peace.”
“The NDC of the DPRK highly estimates the righteous action taken by the “guardians of peace,” though it is not aware of their residence,” it said, using the official name of the country, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The statement was typical of North Korean style, full of indignation that it could be accused of such an attack and, equally in keeping with style, contained a threat to the U.S. government.
“Nothing is more serious miscalculation than guessing that just a single movie production company is the target of this counteraction. Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans,” it said. “The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels.”
The National Defense Commission controls the country’s army and has under it several cyber warfare divisions, including Unit 121, which is thought to employ the bulk of North Korea’s hackers and operates from bases inside the country and overseas.