White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the hacking of Sony has been the subject of daily meetings among senior intelligence officials at the White House.
“This is something that is being treated as a serious national security matter,” Earnest said at a White House press conference on Thursday.
“There is evidence to indicate we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor. It is being treated by investigative agencies both at the FBI and the Department of Justice as seriously as you would expect.
“It has also been the subject of daily meetings at the White House that has been led both by the President’s Homeland Security advisor and by his cybercoordinator that includes senior members of our intelligence community, of military officials, diplomatic and law enforcement officials as well,” he said.
The announcement came just one day after Sony decided to pull “The Interview” from its scheduled Dec. 25 release date following elevated threats from hackers.
“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” the studio said in a statement to TheWrap on Wednesday. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”
Earnest went on to say that the investigation into who is behind the attack is continuing, and he declined to attribute it to North Korea just yet. “The investigation is progressing and that as the national security team meet to discuss this matter, they are considering a range of options
“Regardless of who is found responsible, the president considers it a serious national security matter,” he said. We believe this destructive activity merits an appropriate response,” he continued, explaining that officials who are trying to determine who is behind the Sony attack are considering a number of possible American responses once a perpetrator is identified, while being mindful of the “strategic scenario” and “proportional response.”
However, Earnest said any response the U.S. makes might not be announced publicly. “I don’t expect we will be in a position to be completely forthcoming about every single element once that has been decided upon,” he said.
Asked repeatedly by reporters whether President Obama disagrees with Sony’s decision to withdraw “The Interview,” Earnest said the decision was up to the company. “This is a decision Sony should make. This is a private company,” he replied. “I am sympathetic to the difficult decision they had to make.”
At the same time, “The president and the administration stand squarely on the side of artists and other private citizens who seek to freely express their views. Sometimes those views can be laced with criticism or are sometimes intended to provoke a comedic response, or one intended to be an element of biting social commentary.”
As to whether the president might showcase his support for artists by screening “The Interview” at the White House, Earnest subtly noted that Obama heads to Hawaii this weekend for a Christmas break, so there are no plans to do it now. “I don’t think we are going to show the film anytime soon, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future,” he said.
President Obama is set to hold a news conference on Friday before his departure and is expected to be asked to comment on the hacking and Sony’s decision to pull the film.
The studio’s decision to forego a release of any kind — no streaming, video-on-demand, DVD or Blu-ray — means it won’t see a penny in returns on the film, according to individuals with knowledge of the situation.