Obama Downplays Sony Hacking: ‘Not an Act of War’
Policy + Politics

Obama Downplays Sony Hacking: ‘Not an Act of War’

President Obama dismissed the idea that the hacking of Sony Pictures was an act of war by North Korea. 

During an interview that aired on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sunday morning, the president described the hack instead as  “cyber vandalism.” “I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive,” said Obama – but not an act of war as others, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have called it.

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“We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately,” the president said about the cyber hack against Sony purportedly because of its screwball comedy The Interview, a movie starring Seth Rogan and James Franco about a plot to assassinate a North Korean leader that not-so-coincidentally resembles Kim Jong-un. The movie had been scheduled for a Dec. 25 release but Sony has withdrawn it, claiming it had no choice because major theater chains said they were bagging it.

North Korea has threatened to attack any theaters that show the film in the U.S. It was also reportedly behind the massive cyber attacks that stole electronic property and data from Sony’s computers and released a barrage of unflattering emails in retaliation for producing the film, though North Korea has denied it.

Sony said it still plans to release The Interview in some capacity. Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, David Boies, Sony’s lawyer, said, “It’s going to be distributed.” 

Still, Obama criticized Sony on Friday for ceding to the hackers and canceling the movie’s showings. In Sunday’s interview, he added that he was “sympathetic to the fact” that Sony is a business that has crucial considerations given the terror threats.

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Others, however, took issue with the president’s remarks – especially his description of the hack as “vandalism.” 


The Sony hacking has sparked new concerns over whether the U.S. can handle a large-scale cyber attack. Sen. McCain said Congress needs to “work together” on cyber security legislation to make the government better able to prevent and respond to costly and dangerous cyber threats.

“I think, again, the president does not understand this is a manifestation of a new form of warfare,” Sen. John McCain said on CNN’s State of the Union. “When you destroy economies, when you are able to impose censorship on the world – and especially the United States of America – it’s more than vandalism. It’s a new form of warfare that we’re involved in, and we need to react and react vigorously.”

McCain said the president should reintroduce sanctions against North Korea that were lifted during the Bush administration. This would include putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. 

The president told Candy Crowley the United States is considering that possibility.

Related: Sony Hacked Again: Who’s At Risk?

“We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” Obama said. “We’ve got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism. And we don't make those judgments just based on the news of the day. We look systematically at what’s been done and based on those facts, we'll make those determinations in the future.”

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