It is still not known with certainty who hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. Several security analysts have questioned the FBI’s assertion that North Korea is to blame. An analysis by the security firm Norse suggests that the evidence points, not to North Korea, but to just six individuals who are based in the U.S., Canada, Singapore and Thailand. At least one of the six is a former employee of Sony Pictures Entertainment who was laid off in May after ten years with the company.
Despite the uncertainty and lack of definitive evidence, the FBI has stated with certainty that North Korea is responsible: "As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions."
Acting on the assignation of responsibility, President Obama moved forward and punished the North Koreans with sanctions. The White House announced that "Today, the President issued an Executive Order (E.O.) authorizing additional sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This E.O. is a response to the Government of North Korea’s ongoing provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment."
Additionally, President Obama has said that he is considering placing North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
What is truly comic about the controversy surrounding the comic movie, is the brazenly ironic hypocrisy of the American government. Whether or not North Korea is guilty of cyber terrorism, it is not the North Koreans, but the Americans who are the far more dangerous and significant cyber terrorists. The Sony hackers hacked an entertainment company and, in the end, didn’t even succeed in blowing the bulbs in Sony’s projectors. The Americans have carried out cyber terrorism on a sovereign country’s civilian nuclear program.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called the Sony hack an act of war and then utterly distorted the cyberwar timeline by lamenting that "With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar." This was not the first battle in the cyberwar.
The first act of cyberwar was launched against Iran four years ago. And The Obama administration has admitted direct responsibility for that barrage of cyber attacks. The Stuxnet computer virus infected Iran’s centrifuges and sent them spinning wildly out of control. It then played back preciously recorded tapes of normal operations which plant operators watched unsuspectingly while the centrifuges literally tore themselves apart. The New York Times says that, according to intelligence and military experts, the Dimona nuclear complex in Israel was the testing ground for the virus. There are nuclear centrifuges in Dimona that are virtually identical to Iran’s, making it a perfect model to test the effectiveness of the virus. Stuxnet seems to have wiped out about 20% of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.
And Stuxnet, it turns out, was only the beginning. The New York Times has revealed that Obama ordered sophisticated attacks on the computers that run Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. A virus much larger than Stuxnet, known as Flame, has attacked Iranian computers. This virus maps and monitors the system of Iranian computers and sends back intelligence that is used to prepare for cyber war campaigns like the one undertaken by Stuxnet. Officials have now confirmed that Flame is one part of a joint project of America’s CIA and NSA and Israel’s secret military unit 8200.
So the Sony hack does not make America the victim of the first cyberwar. And it certainly does not make America the loser of the cyber battle, as Gingrich asserts: the score is one not quite killed movie versus 20% of a nation’s nuclear centrifuges.
But even if the Sony hack was the first cyber attack, it was still not the first shot fired in the current battle. America was not an innocent victim of an unprovoked cyber attack. The U.S. State Department had a clandestine hand in the movie The Interview with an eye toward encouraging thoughts of regime change in North Korea. Leaked emails reveal that at least two U.S. government officials screened a rough cut of The Interview and gave the film their approval. The emails reveal that the State Department was involved in Sony’s decision to keep the scene of the death of Kim Jong-Un in the final cut of the film. Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton admits that they "Spoke to someone very senior in State." The leaked emails also reveal that U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, Robert King, was also consulting on The Interview.
And if it seems strange or unlikely that the U.S. government should be involved in the making of a Hollywood movie, it’s not: the U.S. government has funded all sorts of cultural projects. Perhaps the most ironic was the CIA’s usurpation of the works of George Orwell. The CIA made a movie version of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Major contributors to the movie included Hollywood producer and agent Carleton Alsop and scriptwriter Finis Farr, who were both actually with the CIA. The CIA then acquired the rights to 1984 (that’s right: Big Bother owns Big Brother). In both cases, the CIA manipulated the story line to fit America’s cold war narrative.
And these works were not isolated cases. The Church Committee found that, by the end of 1967, the CIA had subsidized the publication of well over one thousand books.
A 1961 paper from the office of the chief of the CIA Covert Action Staff declared that books are "the most important weapon of strategic (long-range) propaganda," explaining that "one single book can significantly change the reader’s attitude and action to an extent unmatched by the impact of any other single medium. . . ."
The paper went on to say that "The advantage of our direct contact with the author is that we can acquaint him in great detail with our intentions; that we can provide him with whatever detail we want him to include. . . ."
That "advantage" is still being exercised by the CIA today. That explanation of the advantage could be directly applied to the other big Hollywood movie the American government has recently partnered in. The CIA used the movie Zero Dark Thirty as a vehicle for selling its justification of torture. According to the screen writer, Mark Boal, he was given access to firsthand accounts by the CIA. And Obama administration officials admit that Boal was given access to officials from the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House. Investigative historian Gareth Porter says that "Those meetings ensured Zero Dark Thirty would tell a story that suited the interests of those seeking to protect the CIA’s reputation." Just like the CIA Chief of Covert Action said.
So, the accepted narrative of the Sony hacks omits much. The States is neither the victim of the first cyberwar, nor are they losing the cyberwar. They are also not innocent, having used The Interview as a hidden political action designed to influence the domestic affairs of North Korea by promoting the ideas of assassination and regime change. The real comedy, then, comes not out of Hollywood, but out of Washington, where the humour of irony is really understood.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.