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Obama: US to Respond to N. Korea Sony Attack


President Barack Obama answers a question about the cyberattack on Sony Pictures after his end of the year press conference in the briefing room of the White House, Dec. 19, 2014.
President Barack Obama answers a question about the cyberattack on Sony Pictures after his end of the year press conference in the briefing room of the White House, Dec. 19, 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed that U.S will respond "proportionally" to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures that the FBI has blamed on North Korea.

Speaking during his annual end-of-year news conference at the White House, Obama said Sony "made a mistake" in canceling the release of a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korea's leader, as a result of the hackers' threat to stage further attacks.

Obama said he was sympathetic to Sony's concerns, but added, "We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here.

"Again, I'm sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other. I wish they would have spoken to me at first. I would have told them do not get in a pattern in which you are intimidated by these types of criminal attacks," he said.

Related video report by VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez:

Obama to N. Korea: US Will Respond to Hack Attack
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The president also said there was no sign that North Korea worked together with another country on the cyberattack. He said the U.S. will respond to the hacking in "a manner and time we will choose."

During the press conference, Obama also defended his policies during the past year, saying the U.S. economy is improving and that America is leading around the world. He then fielded questions on a range of issues, including the dramatic shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba, and his controversial executive action on immigration, and his relationship with congressional Republicans.

FBI announcement

The FBI on Friday for the first time publicly linked North Korea to the cyberattack on Sony. North Korea has denied any connection to the cyberattack.

The massive breach, which occurred November 24, resulted in the leak of tens of thousands of documents, including sensitive emails and personal information.

At the time of the hack, the Sony film studio had scheduled a Christmas Day release of "The Interview." But, following threats of terrorist attacks, several major theater chains said they would not show the film.

Sony announced Wednesday it was scrapping the December 25 release. It has no current plans to release the film.

The FBI said the hacking "reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States."

A hacker group calling itself Guardians of Peace earlier promised a "bitter fate" for those attending any showings of "The Interview." The group invoked the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and warned people to "keep yourself distant" from theaters showing the film.

Sony fallout

Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton told CNN Friday that the Hollywood studio did not make a mistake in pulling the film. He said the company experienced the worst cyber attack in American history and said Sony did not give in or cave to the hackers.

"Guardians of Peace" reportedly sent a message to Sony executives calling the decision to cancel the movie "very wise."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had said "there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters." President Barack Obama also downplayed the threat, saying his "recommendation would be that people go to the movies."

Secretary of State John Kerry said North Korea's actions are a "brazen attempt by an isolated regime to suppress free speech."

The FBI said its conclusion that North Korea was involved in the hacking is based in part on the discovery of links to malware previously deployed by North Korean agents. It said it also observed "significant overlap" between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. has previously linked to North Korea.

It said the tools used in the Sony attack were found to have similarities to a cyberattack North Korea carried out last year against South Korean banks and media outlets.

A banner for "The Interview," a firm whose release has been delayed by Sony Pictures, is posted outside Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, California, Dec. 17, 2014
A banner for "The Interview," a firm whose release has been delayed by Sony Pictures, is posted outside Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, California, Dec. 17, 2014

The film portrays Rogen and Franco as frustrated television journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korea's leader. In the film's climactic scene, Kim Jong Un's head is seen exploding when his helicopter is hit by a missile.

Pyongyang strongly denounced the comedy as an act of terrorism and called for Sony to cancel the film. It praised the hacking as a "righteous deed," while insisting it was not involved.

Celebrities protest

Many in Hollywood took to Twitter to speak out against Sony's decision to scrap the movie's release.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel called the move "an un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist's actions and sets a terrifying precedent." Actor Rob Lowe declared it an "utter and complete victory" for the hackers. Steve Carell, whose own film set in North Korea has been canceled, said it was a "sad day for creative expression."

Limited options

Leonid Petrov, a Korea analyst at Australian National University, told VOA the U.S. would have limited options for dealing with Pyongyang.

"I don't think the U.S. government has any leverage to influence North Korea," Petrov said. "There's no negotiations, there's no diplomatic representation. There's no trade. There's basically no exchange, no joint projects."

The U.S. and its allies have already imposed round after round of economic sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs. The sanctions have devastated the North's economy and left it isolated from the rest of the world, but also resistant to further punishment.

Remco Breuker, a professor of Korean studies at the Netherlands' Leiden University, agreed the U.S. has few good choices.

"I think the only thing you can do is take a very tough line on what you think should happen. So if North Korea is behind this, the best thing the U.S. could do is make sure this picture does get released one way or the other and protect from further hacking attempts."

Cuba relations

The president faced a number of questions on his recently announced decision to normalize relations with Cuba.

Obama defended his action to move, saying it will give the United States a greater opportunity influence the communist government there. He said he does not expect changes with Cuba to happen overnight, and he said it will likely be some time before Congress begins a debate about the possibly of lifting the trade embargo with the island nation.

He said it is clear that isolating Cuba has not worked. "What I know deep in my bones is that if you've done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome,'' said Obama.

He said that while he recognizes that Cuba is “still a regime that oppresses its people,” he believes the new policy of more openness should give the U.S. a chance to have more influence in the country and bring changes that a decades-long embargo failed to achieve.

After Friday’s briefing, the president left Washington for Hawaii, the state where he was born, to spend the Christmas holiday.

VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez contributed to this report.