The White House, in its usual impotent way, responded to the cyber attack on Sony Studios with a barrage of verbiage. White House spokesman Josh Earnest intoned that the attacks were executed by a “sophisticated actor with malicious intent… We believe that this destructive activity merits an appropriate response. There are a range of options that are under consideration right now. The president considers this to be a serious national security matter.”
There was no word as to what options the Obama Administration was considering.
The cyber attacks prompted Sony Pictures to shelve the release of The Interview, a film centering on James Franco and Seth Rogen’s attempts to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which was supposed to debut on Christmas day. The canceling of the release cost Sony an estimated $90 million, the most a U.S. company has ever lost due to a cyber attack. Some estimates say that the additional costs for Sony in order to update computer security systems could push the cost to $200 million.
Though the US Department of Homeland Security concluded there was “no credible intelligence” of a real terrorist plot targeting theaters, five of the chief film theater chains canceled their showings of the film, and Franco and Rogen were seen with numbers of bodyguards. Cyber attacks preceding the attack on the film targeted Sony for weeks starting on November 24 with images of a skull on the screen of every Sony employee, warning: “This is just the beginning, we’ve obtained all your internal data.”
What followed was an avalanche of leaks, including copies of films yet to be released, the salaries of various stars, the script for the new James Bond movie, along with thousands of emails incriminating Sony studio chief Amy Pascal and senior producer Scott Rudin.
The White House’s nattering and Sony’s capitulation left many others furious at the encroachment on free speech triggered by the cyber attack. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said, “There is a very important principle around freedom of speech which we should never be shy about defending. That is absolutely a view the Prime Minister has.” Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, added, “It’s just extraordinary that in a free society we are allowing these online thugs from this police state to intimidate people.”
Actor Rob Lowe echoed, “Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today. Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them.” Writer Aaron Sorkin barked, “Today the US succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech.” Producer Judd Apatow opined, “What do they do when someone says the same thing about the James Bond movie? Or, Annie? How many movies are they willing not to release? It’s a dark future.”
Once the criticism of Sony mounted, the Obama Administration took pains to put some daylight between themselves and the beleaguered studio; a spokesman for the National Security Council said the decision was Sony’s and the government was not involved. Sony asserted that it had asked the State Department about the script last January, and the State Department had no problems with it.
Newt Gingrich, former US House Speaker, summed up the opinions of those irate with the cancelation of the film, saying, “No one should kid themselves. With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very, very dangerous precedent.” He also was clear about the severity of the attack, stating, “If a foreign country comes into your country and takes down a major corporation, makes it impossible to work in a normal way, steals five movies and then issues threats that it will kill American citizens if they go to a movie theater, that is pretty darn close to an act of war. And I’m not talking about legalisms here. I’m talking about the practical effect.”