UPDATED JANUARY 4: President Barack Obama, already a significant player in the Sony hack debacle, has imposed economic sanctions on North Korea in light of the cyber attacks on Sony Pictures in a move that drew a stern denunciation from Pyongyang.
An executive order issued on Friday (January 2) named three North Korean state bodies and ten government officials.
While Administration officials said none of those named were directly implicated in any of the cyber attacks, the order is designed to further isolate Pyongyang from the international business community.
The White House response to what it called “provocative, destabilising and repressive actions and policies” are part of an ongoing “proportional” retaliation to the cyber attack on Sony Pictures.
“Today’s actions are driven by our commitment to hold North Korea accountable for its destructive and destabilising conduct,” Treasury secretary Jack Lew said in a statement.
“Even as the FBI continues its investigation into the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment [SPE], these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend US businesses and citizens, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States.”
North Korean authorities reiterated their claim on Sunday (January 4) that the country had nothing to do with the cyber attacks on Sony Pictures, adding that that the sanctions would only strengthen the leadership’s resolve to stand firm.
The FBI recently asserted that North Korea was behind the studio hack that exposed confidential data such as payments to the stars of The Interview and a slew of now notorious email correspondence involving SPE co-chairman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin, among others.
Despite reports over the past few days that a group of disgruntled Sony Pictures employees may lie behind the cyber attack, the FBI maintains its belief that North Korea is culpable for the attacks and by extension threats to film-goers in the run-up to the comedy’s scheduled wide release on December 25.
Sony Pictures and the five leading US theatre chains pulled out of the wide release, although the studio subsequently backed a limited debut in independent theatres as well as an online and VOD launch.
The major exhibitors claim they never intended to completely withdraw from the wide release and were exploring ways to modify the arrangement.
The sanctions are the first imposed on Pyongyang since the US took action in response to North Korea’s nuclear programme.