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Obama Says Sony Should Not Have Pulled Film Over Threats

Updated at 6:00 p.m. ET

President Obama called Sony's decision to pull its film The Interview, following threats to movie theaters, a "mistake."

"We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States," the president said in his year-end news conference.

He added that he was "sympathetic" to Sony's concerns, but, "I wish they would have spoken to me first."

Reacting to President Obama's words today, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton says, "First, I was surprised by the remark. But, I think actually the president and I are coming from the same place. We are obviously both strong proponents of the First Amendment."

In an interview onAll Things Considered, Lynton defended his company, saying that its actions have been misunderstood.

"I think the issue here is that there's been a general misunderstanding with the press and the public about how these events unfolded," Lynton said, "and the fact that we have been absolutely diligent about making certain that this movie get out into movie theaters. And it was only when the movie theaters themselves had said they couldn't take the movie, that we had to say that we couldn't release it on the 25th of December."

Earlier Friday, the FBI said it has enough information to confirm that North Korea was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures.

The agency tied the attack to North Korea because the malware used in the attack had the hallmarks of software written by the country in the past.

"For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks," the FBI said in a statement.

The tools used, the agency said, also had similarities to a cyberattack that took place in March of last year against banks in South Korea.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, for its part, issued a statement saying it "is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment.

"The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation's theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision," the Sony statement said.

The hack has caused serious repercussions for Sony. The stolen data have made public some embarrassing emails written by its executives. Hackers also leaked unreleased movies and scripts.

The group that took responsibility for the attack, "Guardians of Peace," said it was responding to Sony Pictures' comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After the group issued threats to attack movie theaters that show the film, major movie chains pulled The Interview and Sony decided against a Christmas Day release.

"We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private-sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there," the FBI said. "Further, North Korea's attack on [Sony] reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States."

In a separate statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the hack "underscores the importance of good cybersecurity practices to rapidly detect cyber intrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks.

"Every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company's cybersecurity," he added.

Immediately following the FBI announcement, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ed Royce, R-Calif., criticized the White House for not imposing tough financial sanctions on North Korea.

"North Korea is attacking our infrastructure," Royce said in a statement. "It is also attacking our values. The decision to pull 'The Interview' from theatres unfortunately is a North Korean victory in its attack on our freedom. We better quickly respond comprehensively to defend freedom of speech in the face of terrorist threats and cyber attacks."

Options, though, are limited. The U.S. could impose new financial sanctions on Pyongyang and boost military support to South Korea. Yet these moves have had little impact on the heavily sanctioned country in the past.

CNN reported earlier Friday that the hackers behind the attack issued another statement Friday, praising Sony for pulling the movie. Removing it from screens, the hackers said in an email to Sony executives, was a "very wise" decision.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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