- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2014

President Obama was quick to second-guess Sony Pictures Entertainment for its handling of the North Korean terrorist threat, which has critics asking why a movie studio has been left to conduct foreign policy instead of the White House.

“This is not something Hollywood is equipped to handle, which is, ‘How do you battle a foreign country?’” said Hemanshu Nigam, a cybersecurity expert who previously headed worldwide Internet enforcement for the Motion Picture Association of America.

“That’s the job of the White House, and if anyone needs to show leadership in that area, it’s the White House,” he said.

On Wednesday, Sony pulled the “The Interview” after a 9/11-style threat from hackers linked to North Korea prompted cinema chains to back out of the film’s scheduled Dec. 25 release. The threat came following a mega-hack of Sony’s computer system that resulted in the leak of thousands of private emails and documents as well as several unreleased films.

Mr. Obama had said little publicly about Sony’s predicament before the studio cancelled the film, a comedy about a CIA plot to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong-un starring James Franco and Seth Rogen.

Since then, however, the president has played the role of Monday morning quarterback, contending Friday that Sony “made a mistake” and scolding the studio for bowing to pressure from North Korea, a rogue communist state that recently tested a nuclear device.

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Mr. Obama said at his end-of-year press conference, adding, “I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them: Do not get into the pattern in which you are intimidated.”

But Sony CEO Michael Lynton told CNN Friday that he had in fact sought help from the president. In an excerpt from an interview slated to air Sunday, Mr. Lynton said, “I did reach out. We definitely spoke to a senior adviser in the White House to talk about the situation. The White House was certainly aware of the situation,” according to Deadline Hollywood.

Scores of celebrities and politicians have accused Sony of cowardice for failing to go toe-to-toe with North Korea over free-speech rights. Mr. Lynton said that he had “no choice” after the theater chains refused to show the film, but that he was exploring other options for its release.

Mr. Nigam, founder of the security firm SSP Blue in Santa Monica, argued that “Sony is a corporation. It’s not equipped to determine how to negotiate with a foreign nation-state that’s declaring a war upon it.”

“That’s something the White House should be standing up to, and the president should have been stronger and saying, ‘We will not stand for somebody telling one of our companies to not release a movie. That’s not how America operates,’” Mr. Nigam said. “As opposed to saying, ‘Well, Sony, you made the wrong decision.’”

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg contrasted the current climate to that of 1940, when former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia assured cartoonists that, “The city of New York will see that no harm will come to you” after they received threats over a drawing showing Captain America punching Adolf Hitler in the mouth.

“New York Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t call the management of Landmark Theaters in New York, where Sony Pictures was slated to premiere ‘The Interview,’ and say, “The city of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’ He didn’t say much of anything at all,” Mr. Goldberg wrote in National Review. “President Obama did eventually say the public should ‘go to the movies,’ but that’s about it.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson described the Sony cyberattack Friday as “an attack on our freedom and expression and way life,” and encouraged CEOs to work with the agency in beefing up their cybersecurity.

Others argue that the Sony hack stemmed from the Obama administration’s lackluster track record in countering cyberattacks from foreign governments, including China, Iran and Russia.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, declared that, “The need for Sony Pictures to make that decision ultimately arose from the Administration’s continuing failure to satisfactorily address the use of cyber weapons by our nation’s enemies.”

He vowed to use his platform on the Senate Armed Services Committee to “hold the Administration accountable for its failure to institute a meaningful strategy for combating these increasingly brazen and dangerous actions.”

China expert and author Gordon G. Chang argued Friday that North Korea was emboldened by the U.S. failure to counter cyber thefts of U.S. intellectual property by foreign governments.

“For two decades, the U.S. has not taken effective action against countries that have been hacking American companies for their intellectual property,” Mr. Chang told FoxBusiness host Neil Cavuto. “This is the reason why North Korea saw it was pushing on an open door when it went after Sony Pictures Entertainment.”

Mr. Chang added, “Sony acted like most companies would act in this situation. Yes, it was craven, but the point is that Sony doesn’t have a responsibility to protect the American people. The president of the United States [does].”

Fear in Hollywood over the specter of another hack or terrorist threat is palpable. New Regency has cancelled plans to film a North Korea-set movie starring Steve Carell, while actor George Clooney tried to drum up support for a petition in support of free speech, but nobody would sign it, Deadline Hollywood reported.

Those concerns come despite a Department of Homeland Security statement Tuesday insisting that “at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.”

“[T]he administration had seen the movie months ago and had questions about the implications it could have on the North Korea regime,” Mr. Nigam said. “So the moment this attack went down, knowing that the regime had already made a threat against the company, the administration should have been standing up and guiding America and guiding Hollywood and guiding the response to this, in a very public way.”

He added, “Instead of having George Clooney standing up and saying, ‘Hey, let’s fight for our rights,’ it should have been the White House standing up and saying that.”


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