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More Sanctions on North Korea After Sony Case

The Obama administration doubled down on Friday on its allegation that North Korea's leadership was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures, announcing new, if largely symbolic, economic sanctions against 10 senior North Korean officials and the intelligence agency it said was the source of "many of North Korea's major cyberoperations."

The actions were based on an executive order President Obama signed on vacation in Hawaii, as part of what he had promised would be a "proportional response" against the country. But in briefings for reporters, officials said they could not establish that any of the 10 officials had been directly involved in the destruction of much of the studio's computing infrastructure.

In fact, most seemed linked to the North's missile and weapons sales. Two are senior North Korean representatives in Iran, a major buyer of North Korean military technology, and five others are representatives in Syria, Russia, China and Namibia.

The sanctions were a public part of the response to the cyberattack on Sony, which was targeted as it prepared to release "The Interview," a crude comedy about a C.I.A. plot to kill Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader.

The administration has said there would be a covert element of its response as well. Officials sidestepped questions about whether the United States was involved in bringing down North Korea's Internet connectivity to the outside world over the past two weeks.

Perhaps the most noticeable element of the announcement was the administration's effort to push back on the growing chorus of doubters about the evidence that the attack on Sony was North Korean in origin. Several cybersecurity firms have argued that when Mr. Obama took the unusual step of naming the North's leadership -- on Dec. 19 the president declared that "North Korea engaged in this attack" -- he had been misled by American intelligence agencies that were too eager to blame a longtime adversary and allowed themselves to be duped by ingenious hackers skilled at hiding their tracks.

[Source: By David E. Sanger and Michael S. Schmidt, The New York Times, 02Jan15]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
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