(Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama moved to avoid U.S. anger at North Korea from spiraling uncontrollable on Sunday by saying the massive hacking of Sony Pictures had not been an act of war but instead was cyber vandalism.
Washington’s longstanding dispute with North Korea, which for a long time has devoted to its nuclear weapons program, has entered new territory with the accusation that Pyongyang completed an assault on a significant Hollywood entertainment company.
Obama and his advisers are weighing how exactly to punish North Koreaafter the FBI concluded on Friday that Pyongyang was responsible. North Korea has denied it had been at fault.
The U.S. president put the hack in the context of a crime.
"No, I don’t believe it had been an act of war," he told CNN’s "State of the Union" show that aired on Sunday. "I believe it had been an act of cyber vandalism that was too costly, very costly. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately."
Obama said one option was to come back North Korea to the U.S. set of state sponsors of terrorism, that Pyongyang was removed six years back.
North Korea vowed on Sunday going to back against any U.S. retaliation.
"Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the complete U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the ‘symmetric counteraction’ declared by Obama," according to North Korea state news agency KCNA.
The hack attack and subsequent threats of violence against theaters showing the film prompted Sony to withdraw a comedy, "The Interview," prepared for release to concert halls during the holidays. The movie depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Obama and free speech advocates criticized the studio’s decision, but Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended it, saying U.S. theaters didn’t want showing it.
Sony lawyer David Boies said the Hollywood studio planned release a the movie at some time.
"Sony only delayed this," Boies said on NBC’s "Meet up with the Press" on Sunday. "It’ll be distributed. How it will likely be distributed, I don’t believe anybody knows quite yet."
In the CNN interview, that was taped on Friday, Obama acknowledged that in a digitized world "both state and non-state actors will have the capability to disrupt our lives in every types of ways."
"We need to do a far better job of guarding against that. We need to treat it like we’d treat, you understand, the incidence of crime, you understand, inside our countries."
Republican Senator John McCain disagreed with Obama, telling CNN the attack was the manifestation of a fresh sort of warfare.
Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the home Intelligence Committee, wouldn’t normally call the hacking an act of war. But he did criticize Obama for getting into a two-week vacation in Hawaii on Friday without giving an answer to the attack.
Rogers said on "Fox News Sunday" america had the ability to make it very difficult for North Korea to launch another similar attack, but that Obama waited too much time to do something.
"You’ve just limited your capability to take action," Rogers said. "I’d argue you are going to need to ramp up sanctions. It requires to be very serious. Remember – a nation-state was threatening violence."
North Korea has been at the mercy of U.S. sanctions for a lot more than 50 years, however they have had little influence on its human rights policies or its development of nuclear weapons. Experts say the country is becoming expert in hiding its often criminal money-raising activities, largely avoiding traditional banks.
NORTH KOREA DENIES ATTACK
It had been the first time america had directly accused a different country of a cyberattack of such magnitude on American soil and setup the possibility of a fresh confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang.
North Korea said on Saturday it had been not mixed up in Sony attack and may prove it. Pyongyang said it wanted a joint investigation in to the incident with america.
Obama says North Korea seemed to have acted alone. Washington began consultations with Japan, China, South Korea, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the uk, seeking their assistance in reining in North Korea.
U.S. experts say Obama’s options in punishing North Korea could include cyber-retaliation, financial sanctions, criminal indictments against individuals implicated in the attack or perhaps a boost in U.S. military support to South Korea, which continues to be technically at war with the North.
However the aftereffect of any response will be limited, given North Korea’s isolation and the heavy sanctions already set up because of its nuclear program.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry, Lisa Von Ahn and Diane Craft)