Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Looking Beyond “The Interview” and the Sony Hack

Does Pyongyang have such clout that a US-made film can actually be pulled from official release? That is normally the province reserved for local censors, certainly not hackers given a political mission. Those behind The Interview, including Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, must have found it all a touch bemusing. But even more significantly, the tables were turned on a film that featured an assassination plot directed at a living leader, the very much in office Kim Jong-un, albeit dressed up in the form of a comedy.

The saga began when it became clear that Sony Pictures had been the object of a cyber attack by the so-called Guardians of Peace. A trove of emails was made available, featuring, as screenwriter and novelist Clancy Sigal explained, “a marvellous study in how pictures actually get made, with plenty of bile, frustration, cross purposes, doublecrosses, misunderstandings and second thoughts” (CounterPunch, Dec 22). It was ego triumphant.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was less enthusiastic, seeing such material as evidence of how media has given “material aid to criminals.” Pity the small army of Sony employees caught in this crossfire. “Wouldn’t it be a movie moment if the other studios invoked the NATO rule and denounced the attack on Sony as an attack on all of us, and our bedrock belief in free expression?” Unlikely – Hollywood behaviour is not governed by provisions of collective self-defence, however much Sorkin wished it were so.

Then came the flurry of accusations. On Friday, the US President decided that enough was enough. The trail, Obama suggested, led to needling emissaries of the DPRK – or at least, that is what his security advisors were telling him. North Korean authorities deemed the accusation that it has initiated the attacks as “groundless slander” and suggested, rather cheekily, that a joint investigation be made. In the words of a North Korean spokesman, “We propose to conduct a joint investigation with the US in response to groundless slander being perpetrated by the US by mobilising public opinion.”

Sony’s own explanations for its conduct have been something to behold. They did not “cave in”, and in any case, even if they did, they did so tactically. Chief Executive Michael Lynton has suggested alternative platforms for releasing the film.

What has tended to be under-emphasised in this unfolding off screen drama is the political feed that has gone into The Interview. An exaggerated rage over the issue of free speech has also featured. Take Amy Nicholson in the LA Weekly (Dec 17): “Let’s be clear: Cancelling the Christmas Day opening of The Interview is cowardly.” Blame the theatre chains – AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Carmike and Cineplex – all of whom got cold feet at threats that the opening night would see a terror storm. As a result, “we’ve hobbled our nation’s commitment to free speech in ways we may never see”.

Interferences with the internal affairs of a state can take on various forms, even if it is framed as a “free speech” matter that sees the head of a sitting leader explode. (Advocates of this line point to a range of films, often in the Frederick Forsyth line, which feature a string of assassination plots, ignoring the contemporaneous nature of the current subject.)

A closer look at the response to the DPRK’s attack suggests that Pyongyang may well have had good reason to be peeved. After all, a film from the other side of the fence featuring the assassination of President Obama, however humorous, might have seen every good office in the US used to frustrate its release.

The political stake in the film was never in doubt. Sony chief Michael Lynton went so far as to get a Rand Corporation senior analyst to cast his eyes over The Interview, a somewhat serious gesture despite the comedic thrust of the script. Given Lynton’s presence on the Rand board of trusties, Bennett proved to be a convenient consultant. So much, then, for the purity of the free speech matter.

Bennett was happy to speculate that the film would have had internal political consequences. “I think it should be released. Once [Kim Jong-un’s] elites see it, it’s going to have some effect and it’s not going to be good for him. I think that’s what, in the end, they were really trying to stop by stopping the release of the film” (Deadline, Dec 19).

Bennett’s conclusion on seeing the film? “I told [Lynton] I thought it was coarse, that it was over the top in some areas, but that I thought the depiction of Kim Jong-un was a picture that needed to get into North Korea.” Bennett skirts over the obvious point that such “information operations” have fared poorly in the hermit state.

While the accusations at this point remain mired in uncertain certainties countering other forms of certainty, the legal analysts have been heading for the books to see what form of provocation the attack could be deemed. The general sense: not quite one of war, though cyber attacks have assumed importance in military manuals as potentially destructive acts.

For all of that, it is the North Koreans who are racking up the points, despite Obama’s rather flailing attempt to identify a “proportional response”. Pyongyang has shown that it can pack quite an asymmetric punch if its interests are impugned. The United States, in contrast, has a greater spread of targets, a huge underbelly awaiting to be slit. This has put something of a dampener on prospective retaliation against the comparatively cyber poor country.

As David Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times (Dec 20) note, there is “concern over the risk of escalation with North Korea since the United States has far more vulnerable targets, from its power grid to its financial markets than North Korea.”

There is also the Chinese dimension. Beijing’s help is being sought, as much of the DPRK’s telecommunications runs through China. Such help from Beijing will invariably be qualified, given Washington’s own concerns about previous Chinese attacks on its cyber infrastructure. Five Chinese hackers working for the PLA were indicted by the US Justice Department in May on charges of industrial espionage. Any formed pact is bound to be Mephistophelean in nature. The empire has been ambushed, and the regime in Pyongyang may have some moment, if only briefly, to gloat.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Cesar Chelala
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
October 18, 2018
Erik Molvar
The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail