September 28, 2022

The Sony hack: A brave new world of cyber confusion

The U.S. government narrative blaming North Korea faces an unprecedented level of scrutiny from experts

The hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment in late November 2014 has generated a new clash between the United States and North Korea, a furor over what by most accounts is a very bad film, a huge number of articles – for a selection of over a hundred see here – and it must be admitted a certain amount of entertainment, tempered by concern. The incident has breached a number of barriers. It is the first time the U.S. has made an assassination film, and a comedy at that, about a living foreign leader, rather than fictional one. It is the first time that the U.S. has formally accused another state (as opposed to foreign nationals) of a cyber-attack. It may be the first time that the U.S. has refused to confirm or deny a cyber-attack on the institutions of a foreign government.

And it is the first time that there has been such a surge of expert dissension and scepticism. Usually when there is a stoush between the U.S. and a foreign country – not an unusual event it itself – the “experts” and the mainstream media stand pretty firmly behind the government. The official line is received wisdom, incontestable, not to be seriously challenged but to be regurgitated with variation. True, a few “respectable” voices have been raised questioning the government narrative over the Ukraine, Russia and Vladimir Putin and reported in the mainstream press: John J. Mearsheimer in Foreign Affairs, former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and the occasional journalist – Eugene Robinson and Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post, Patrick L. Smith in Salon. However, in general the “experts” have stood in solidarity with the administration, frequently offering advice how to deepen the crisis; for instance Michael Weiss in Foreign Policy advising “How to Kneecap the Thug in the Kremlin” (it’s not only the North Koreans who use intemperate language).