Obama retaliates with sanctions

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President Obama authorized new economic sanctions on North Korea Friday in retaliation for the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment and threats made by hackers against theaters that planned to show “The Interview.”

The president’s executive order gives the administration the ability to target any North Korean government official, government entity, Korean Workers Party Official, or any person or entity that is providing support to the North Korean government, according to a senior administration official.

{mosads}“This is a very broad authority that will allow us at the time and place of our choosing to impose sanctions,” a senior administration official said.

“This really expands the aperture of our authorities.”

The move immediately targets three North Korean “entities,” as well as 10 other individuals, denying them “access to the U.S. financial system” and prohibiting “U.S. persons from engaging in transactions or dealings” with the groups or people, according to the Treasury Department. One of those targeted is the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s intelligence organization.

The specific targets of the sanctions were not chosen because they had a direct role in the hack, but instead as punishment to the North Korean government. Most of the sanctions directly target KOMID, North Korea’s primary arms dealer.

“We take seriously North Korea’s attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a U.S. company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in an emailed statement.

The FBI in December accused the North Korean government of perpetrating a massive cyber hack that leaked employee information and made some unreleased movies public.

Some cybersecurity experts have questioned whether North Korea was responsible for the hack. A number of experts believe that disgruntled or former employees could have been behind it.

But a senior administration official said that the White House backs the conclusion that North Korea was at fault. 

“Some of these cyber-security firms don’t have access to the same classified channels of information [that] we do,” the official said.

“We stand firmly behind our call that the DPRK was behind the attack of Sony, but open to all information that’s being provided by the private industry.”

Administration officials refused to comment on whether the U.S. government was behind rampant internet outages in North Korea days after the Sony threats. 

“There are many possible explanations for the DPRK’s internet outage, including the possibility that they ended doing it to themselves,” a senior administration official said.

Members of Congress had been dialing up the pressure on the White House to retaliate with sanctions.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the White House’s move while calling for a shift in how the government deals with North Korea.

“The administration’s decision to impose new sanctions on North Korean entities and individuals sends a message to North Korea and others that the United States will not tolerate illicit activities, including cyber attacks,” he said.

“It’s time to acknowledge that our current North Korea policy is not working, and that we must develop a more proactive strategy across the board to respond to growing threats from North Korea, including its cyber activities as well as its weapons of mass destruction programs.”

The hackers threatened Sony with the release of more information if it moved ahead with the launch of “The Interview,” a comedy about two TV journalists who assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The hackers also threatened a 9/11-style attack on theaters that showed the film.

The movie’s Dec. 25 release was initially canceled, but it has since been released for streaming and on-demand. 

This post was updated at 5:24 p.m.

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