ith U.S. intelligence analysts quietly pointing to North Korea as having a hand in the destructive hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment computers, Obama administration officials scrambled Thursday to consider what, if anything, they should do in response.
Options are limited, partly because the United States already imposes strict sanctions on North Korea’s economy and because the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, relishes confrontation with the West. White House officials are wary of playing into an effort by nuclear-armed North Korea to provoke the U.S. into a direct confrontation.
“How do you sanction the world’s most heavily sanctioned country?” asked John Park, a specialist on Northeast Asia at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Hackers caused tens of millions of dollars in damage last month to Sony Pictures’ computers, destroyed valuable files, leaked five films, four of them unreleased, and exposed private employment information including 47,000 Social Security numbers.
In response to the cyberattack and a threat against movie theaters, Sony canceled the Christmas Day release of “The Interview,” a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that depicts a fictional assassination of Kim.
The Obama administration has stopped short of saying openly that North Korea was involved in the intrusion. Such an allegation would probably bring about calls for a response, and with an unwillingness to lay out its evidence, lack of available economic punishments and little desire for acts of war, the White House so far appears reluctant to make a public accusation.
Spokesman Josh Earnest would say only that the White House considers the breach of one of Hollywood’s largest studios to be a “serious national security matter.”