Politics & Government

Obama: North Korea’s actions are cybervandalism, not war

President Obama speaks at a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room, Dec. 19, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
President Obama speaks at a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room, Dec. 19, 2014, in Washington, D.C. TNS

President Barack Obama said Sunday that he does not think a recent North Korean cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment was “an act of war.” But, he told CNN's Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” that it was a very expensive act of cybervandalism.

“No, I don't think it was an act of war,” Obama said. “I think it was an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately.”

Obama said the United States will look at whether to return North Korea to the list of nations that sponsor terrorism after it was removed in 2008.

“We've got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism,” he said. “And we don't make those judgments just based on the news of the day. We look systematically at what's been done and based on those facts, we'll make those determinations in the future.”

In response to a question, Obama reiterated again that Sony should not have canceled the release of the movie “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un following that country’s threats against theaters that showed the film.

“I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make,” Obama said. “Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was.”

Obama said Friday that Sony had made “a mistake” and that he wished the company had contacted him before making the decision. Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton told CNN later that Obama is “mistaken as to what actually happened” and blamed movie theaters for deciding not to show the film.

The FBI on Friday said that North Korea hacked into Sony's computer systems. North Korea has denied responsibility.

“If we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt through cyber, a company's distribution chain or its products, and as a consequence we start censoring ourselves, that's a problem,” Obama said. “And it's a problem not just for the entertainment industry, it's a problem for the news industry. CNN has done critical stories about North Korea. What happens if in fact there is a breach in CNN's cyberspace? Are we going to suddenly say, are we not going to report on North Korea?”

Obama spoke to Crowley about North Korea part of his final news interview of the year. He also spoke about Russian President Vladimir Putin, relations with Cuba and race relations, though the interview was taped prior to the weekend killing of two New York police officers.

The First Family departed Washington for Hawaii for a two-week vacation on Friday.