Obama: Sony “Made A Mistake” Pulling ‘The Interview’ From Theaters

sonypictureshacksueThe FBI announced today, and President Obama confirmed during a press conference, that North Korea is indeed behind the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The President expressed his sympathy for Sony employees, but gave voice to what many in the United States are thinking: that hacks are inevitable, and in pulling their movie, Sony did the wrong thing.

The very first questioner at the press conference asked the President what a “proportional response” to the Sony hack would look like, and if he thought Sony did the right thing by pulling The Interview from theaters. The response was surprisingly honest.

“Sony is a corporation,” Obama began. “It suffered significant damage, there were threats against its employes. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.”

“Having said that,” he continued, “Yes. I think they made a mistake.”

“In this interconnected, digital world,” he went on, “there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.” He added that the first order of business for both public and private entities is to “harden” their sites and prevent those attacks from taking place in the first place.

But, it seems, the President is a realist. “Even as we get better,” he continued, “the hackers are going to get better too. Some are going to be state actors. Some are going to be non-state actors. … All will be sophisticated,” and can do some real damage. But even though threats are inevitable and will always exist, Obama said, that can’t be a factor in choosing not to act:

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship in the United States. … Imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary, or news reports, that they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

That’s not who we are. That’s not what America’s about.

The President contrasted Sony’s pulling the movie from theaters to other decisions to advance in the face of attack, like Boston continuing to host and run its annual marathon in 2014 after attacks at the finish line killed three and wounded hundreds last year.

“Again,” he continued, “I’m sympathetic that Sony is a private company that’s worried about liabilities. But I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them: do not get into a pattern in which you are intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.”

Obama also poked fun at the idea that actors James Franco and Seth Rogen, even in a pointedly satirical movie, could possibly be credible threats to the North Korean state.

The President also returned to the theme that since hack attacks are inevitable, American institutions — both public and private — desperately need to be better-prepared to handle them.

“We’ve been coordinating with the private sector,” he told reporters, “but a lot more needs to be done. We’re not even close to where we need to be.”

Obama twice emphasized the need for Congress to pass a bill in 2015 that “allows for the kind of information-sharing we need” to bridge public and private best practices and prevent more attacks from happening in the first place.

“If we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this isn’t just going to be about one movie but about our entire economy,” the President noted.

Meanwhile, the actual details of the Sony hack are murkier by the day. Today, two conflicting reports emerged about messages Sony executives had purportedly received from the hackers late last night.

One, Ars Technica reports, was posted publicly and said that Sony has “suffered enough” and can move forward with The Interview as long as it is heavily edited to remove any harm to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The other, as reported by CNN, was sent privately and says the exact opposite: that the movie should never be “released, distributed, or leaked in any form” and that all materials related to it should be removed from the internet.

The combination of the two messages basically leaves Sony leadership exactly between the rock and hard place where they have been since the hack first became known in November.