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Kim Jong-Un
Americans Should Be Safe To Go To the Movies

If Americans don’t feel safe going to their local movie theaters because of threats posed by North Korea and its hypersensitive, dyspeptic dwarf of a dictator, there is something deeply wrong with our national security apparatus. Yet that seems to be exactly what is going on over the new comedy The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play bumbling, unlikely assassins dispatched to take out Kim Jong-un. Hackers attacked Sony, the parent company of the movie’s distributor, invoking 9/11 and threatening violence against anyone who goes to see it. Now, as Huffington Post reports, The Interview is being dropped by theaters around the country:

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Cineplex Entertainment have joined Carmike Cinemas in pulling the film from release.

Landmark Sunshine Cinemas also canceled its New York premiere of the film, and another Northeast chain with 55 locations, Bow Tie Cinemas, decided to abandon plans to show the film following the threats. “The safety and comfort of our patrons is foremost in our minds,” Bow Tie CEO Ben Moss told Variety. Arclight Cinemas will also not show “The Interview.”

There have been cases of individuals being hounded into hiding in previous incidents like this, but this kind of capitulation is something else. It’s one thing to think the premiere would be targeted; quite another to think the local theater in Peioria is too unsafe. This situation is exactly what the national security apparatus is designed to handle, and if it has failed to work in this instance, it’s a disgrace. (Admittedly, Sony just might, as a third option, be overplaying this for publicity purposes or to cover a flop—though the scale involved seems to suggest otherwise).

As for us here at The American Interest, we’ll go see The Interview if we get the chance. Call it a buycott.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Only if the movie had been released and there had been a successful terrorist act would there be ” something deeply wrong with our national security apparatus.” What Sony and the distributors have done is accede to blackmail, thereby encouraged more of the same. The national security apparatus can’t prevent people from making threats. What’s wrong is the vulnerability of websites (and, I fear, not just corporate websites) to hacking.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I may be the only person in the USA who questions the wisdom of this theme for a movie—–given that Kim Jong-un appears to be an unhinged person in charge of some nuclear weapons which may actually function—–AND—-apparently in charge of some hackers who are proven here to be very functional. Trying to make fun of a world-actor nut for private-sector profit may not be the most useful thing Sony could be doing for America or the free world. My guess, for instance, is that the president, the state department, the defense department and many foreign relations specialists in Congress would (privately) call Sony’s venture regrettable.

    Fortunately, the retaliation has so far only targeted Sony itself—–which. by the way, is not the same thing as an attack on America as a whole. Our national security apparatus does not particularly exist to protect a corporation from jumping the shark with poor judgment and getting itself slapped.

    That said, this whole episode is a wake-up call to our vulnerabilities to hackers from anywhere against nearly any computerized system. These are almost certainly in much more precarious circumstances than experts prefer to admit.

    As for the theater chains, does anyone believe they are not acting on advice of liability counsel?

    • CaliforniaStark

      To paraphase a quote widely attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither, and will lose both.” The idea of having to engage in what amounts to an act of self-censorship in order to pacify the barely post adolescent runt in Pyongyang is repulsive. Unfortunately, the United States has engaged in a policy of appeasement regarding North Korea for some time, which has accomplished little. Decisive action is long overdue.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Would you describe decisive action please?

        • f1b0nacc1

          Release the movie….distribute it freely on YouTube, etc… the world what the Norks are so afraid of…
          Since their hacking was designed to deter a specific thing, make sure that they see that their efforts have failed. This seems to me to be a most decisive action.
          As for the US, terminating any aid programs (which only support the regime and its security apparatus, the people see none of it), opening up further arms sales to Japan and South Korea (endorsing a repeal of the self-imposed limit on the range South Korean missile systems might be and excellent idea) seems like a good start. If we REALLY want to get nasty, we should quietly (though let the Chinese intelligence services ‘hack’ some vague information regarding our actions) encourage the Japanese and South Koreans to pursue their own missile and nuclear programs. This would utterly freak out the Chinese, which would likely have the desired effect of putting pressure on their client state, the Norks.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Whether to release the movie is not a United States national decision. It is a Sony and theater chain decision. Putting it on YouTube would be a Google decision.

          • f1b0nacc1

            ‘Encouraging’ Sony is absolutely a national decision by the government, and it is simple enough to do. A few positive statements by Obama, some quiet conversations with the IRS and perhaps the FCC, even a couple of backdoor discussions with some of those Sony execs who were so embarrassed by their rather intemperate emails…would they like some political cover and public forgiveness (versus public condemnation, for instance) might do the trick… The theatre chains have contractual obligations, and most would not object in any event. It doesn’t have to be universal, after all.
            As for YouTube, Google has very serious issues with the government right now, and might welcome a bit of backdoor assistance.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I hope and suspect our government will have some meaningful response to all this, and it may unfold over time.
            We have to assume that espionage and covert counter-measures are underway all the time. This episode will likely accelerate those.

            My original post was not to suggest we all need to bow to Kim. It was more to suggest that Sony’s movie theme may be a little like a guy mouthing off in a bar—-starting an “incident” that becomes an unnecessary brawl, a thing which tends to escalate and involve bystanders. Or like on-field “words” in a ball game, with the benches suddenly emptying for a big fight over something which should never have started.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Given what unalloyed evil Kim represents, that the West is making fun of him strikes me as a minimal action at best. More to the point, what is freedom of expression (the concept, not the constitutional right) if it is NOT about making funny of bullies and tyrants? Once we permit (as a society, a nation, or even as individuals) unhinged bullies to menace us and then claim “well, we deserved it”, we only invite more of it. Whether it is the creeping lawfare of sharia or the cyberwar of the Norks, by surrendering to menace, we only aid in our own gradual slavery

          • FriendlyGoat

            Exactly. The West making fun of Kim IS a “minimal” action, at best. I suspect the movie is funny, but the reality of Kim as you say, as an unalloyed evil, is not a subject for tunny. We need to 1) reform him, or 2) defeat him and his ideas. So far, Sony’s independent action to make a buck on what Kim perceives is at Kim’s expense is backfiring on Sony. I still think the rest of us need think like bar patrons or ball players. What are we be invited to fight about? For whom? Why? For what benefit, exactly?

          • f1b0nacc1

            Once you permit someone like Kim to make decisions upon what we will or will not be allowed to see (and make no mistake about it, that is precisely what is happening here….Sony would never have pulled this movie without the pressure from hackers operating at Kim’s behest), you have in fact surrendered to him on a very basic level. This will not go unnoticed (by the way, it has already had an impact:
            and it will be repeated again in the future. What happens when the Islamists start making similar demands? Or, what about militant feminists? How about radical righties, your favorite boogeymen? I am not talking about pressure and protests, I am talking about the much simpler (and obviously more effective) tactic of violence and force? Do you really want to surrender that basic a freedom to the most radical and unhinged hecklers?
            You describe yourself as a liberal, and I will do you the courtesy of taking you at your word. There is little that I can think of that is more ILLIBERAL than surrendering to this sort of threat…surrendering a basic freedom. I rather doubt that you would find it appealing to live under the sort of regime that you are tacitly (I do not believe that you are endorsing Kim, but the results of your proposed non-actions have the same effect) trying to bring about.
            If Kim is a menace (and I absolutely agree that he is), then he should be dealt with. I have given some suggestions already, but if necessary, others could be easily produced. If we are unwilling to defend even our most basic freedoms, what chance does our society have?

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) I have never suggested we should be unwilling to defend our freedoms. I HAVE suggested this was a questionable project on Sony’s part, and their company is very possibly toast, as a result. (They are now going to be sued a lot, apparently, for allowing certain information to escape and be disclosed by the hackers.)

            2) No one knows how damaged America might become by more hacks to no telling what or by no telling who. You can’t nuke hackers, whether from DPRK, China, Islam or somewhere else. This is a new world problem we are discovering to our immediate and profound dismay. We are clueless about how much risk we may have, and nationally unhappy to find we have any such risk at all. We’re now in the denial phase of “WHAT???!!!”

            3) Your concern that militant feminists will be in line to extort us—-right behind Kim and the Islamists—-is sort of revealing of something. Is that a political-right thing?

            4) America is going to respond to North Korea. I do not know in what way or when, nor do I plan to tell Obama, or State, or DoD, or NSA, or FBI, or CIA how to do it. They’ll figure it out.

          • Anthony

            FG, raised hackles over Bismarck’s 19th century aphorism (“we live in a wondrous time, in which the strong is weak because of his scruples and the weak grow strong because of his audacity” – apparently) made illustrative. But, I agree @4 if North Korea is found to be responsible…. And I would speculate that you’re not part of a very small…

          • FriendlyGoat

            There is always a possibility, raised by some, that North Korea may have had help with this from inside Sony or elsewhere. I think we need to slow down long enough to know what we’re responding to.

          • Anthony


          • f1b0nacc1

            In order:
            1) Suggesting that Sony’s surrender to this sort of blackmail is acceptable or that ‘staying the course’, and making sure that the blackmail fails in its ultimate intent (preventing the release of The Interview) is a de facto recommendation that we not defend our freedoms. Sony is likely to suffer a great deal of legal anguish, but hardly enough to destroy it. When forced to choose between a media giant and trial lawyers, I think that Kissinger had it right when he asked if it were not somehow possible for them both to lose, but ultimately liberal society (and I mean that in 19th century terms, not the deracinated version of liberalism that prevails today) will be the real loser.
            2) There are any number of responses that are possible with regard to hackers, I mentioned several of them upthread. Remember that hackers survive on the sufferance of their host countries, and those countries can be punished in any number of unpleasant ways. We are hardly clueless about the extent of our risk, but being paralyzed by it magnifies the damage beyond calculation. Forcing the Norks to either move or back down would involve some risk and is obviously not a happy choice, but the risk for the Norks is not inconsiderable either. Letting OTHER countries (China/Russia/etc.) know that they can do this and get away with it with little or no risk will do more damage in the long run…
            3) Spend some time on university campuses and see what the hard-core feminists do to things like freedom of speech and due process. This is hardly a Fox News phenomenon (note: I attempt to treat you with respect and engage your arguments without ad hominem responses…it is too much for you to try the same?) And for the record, not all of our mothers/grandmothers/aunts/daughters/etc are feminists (in fact most decline to accept the term, perhaps you might consider why this is so?), the movement long ago drove many of the more reasonable women out and has kept them from returning. Either way though, pick your radical boogeyman left or right wing….do you really want to invite them to engage in speech suppression by blackmail? It isn’t good now, and it can get far, far worse very quickly indeed.
            4) As for the US responding to the Norks…why do you think that this is inevitable? Other than donating big bucks to Obama, Sony really doesn’t have a lot of leverage, and the contents of those emails doesn’t leave them with much good will on anyone’s part. Most of that putative good will was blown when they knuckled under and pulled the movie. We may indeed do something, but I wouldn’t suggest that it is certain, particularly with this administration.
            I notice that you chose not to respond to my question about what message this will send to other actors (yes, you mentioned feminists, but I mentioned others as well), particularly how will we help discourage other bad actors from using the same tactics in the future. ISIS is an obvious candidate here, and I know we both dislike them. Given what has happened with the Norks, how would you suggest we discourage ISIS from doing the same thing in the immediate future?

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) Sony used poor judgment to make this thing. We know it is poor because the United States of America is suddenly obligated to respond to something unnecessary just to keep Russia and China from thinking they can over-reach too. Without that dumb-ass movie, none of this is happening. That is not a point to just throw away while waving the flag.

            2) Feminists just have nothing to do with this. Classing them with dictators and Islamists is weird.

            3) America, I believe, will have its response. Please bear in mind that Obama did not pull the movie. Sony pulled the movie. The proper response is not that we MUST get to see the movie. The proper response is to determine the exact source of the hacking (including non-DPRK help, if any) and move against it as best we can.

            4) We might or might not be able to prevent an ISIS hack—–depends on the hardness of our defenses of the systems they might target. The right answer to ISIS, of course, is to bomb them off the face of the earth anyway, with or without their hacking. North Korea, as a country, is not the same thing.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Once again, in order…
            1) I don’t remember free speech (as distinct from the First Ammendment) being about good judgement. That the US is obligated to respond to a foreign dictator’s attempt to censor it is in fact PRECISELY what government is here for…to protect Americans and their rights from being infringed upon. As for the movie being dumb-ass, have you seen it? If not, you are commenting based entirely upon assumption, which tends to undercut the basis for your judgement. If this were a non-profit documentary fearlessly exposing a pro-American governments misdeeds I wonder if you would feel differently? Free speech is meaningless if it is only about content you find acceptable.
            2) Feminists are more than happy to censor speech that they do not care for (and by the way, this is often by their own admission, consider virtually anything that the late Bella Abzug said just as an immediate example), and their recent behavior demonstrates this problem quite nicely as well. Hence they are entirely germaine when discussing groups willing to use force to prevent others from saying and doing as they wish. In that sense they are very much like Islamists, as uncomfortable as that might be for you to acknowledge. Or do you seriously suggest that only those on the right misbehave?
            3) Nobody is accusing Obama of any wrongdoing here, the disgrace is Sony’s alone. With that said, the idea that Obama is likely to do anything about this is wishful thinking (which I dearly hope is correct) at best. More to the point though, a failure to respond on our part will be a very serious mistake, and will have negative consequences for us over time. However craven and offensive Sony’s mistaken capitulation is here, the lack of a response by the government to aggression against Americans by a foreign power would be a serious error.
            4) However hard our defenses are, we can never guarantee that we can prevent a hack. roof of hacking can be created. Since much of what has been most damaging to Sony has been the release of emails and a few poorly secured spreadsheets (I suspect that the release of more of the latter, including REAL profit and loss statements for some of their movies, was what caused the surrender), we are not talking about particularly sophisticated hackers, or even very competent ones. While bombing the Norks (or the Chinese/Russia/etc.) in response is not necessarily practical (though in the case of the Norks, it might not be a bad idea, just because…), there are numerous other options that the US could easily pursue that would have desirable effects. I have mentioned several earlier, and others exist. The key is that to prevent hacking (or other non-war forms of aggression), the trick is to find the pain points of your adversary and manipulate them thusly. The Chinese are especially vulnerable here, and they hold the leash on the Norks. Make them squeal, and combine this with an aggressive anti-hacking campaign (we entirely agree I think, that hardening key infrastructure would be an excellent idea), and the problem becomes less serious.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Good grief.

            1) It’s a comedy for profit. It’s a spoof. It’s probably funny in places, BUT it was unnecessary and poor judgment to use a living head of state as the subject matter. Sony is paying a terrible price for this decision.

            2) Feminists are in no sense like Islamists. (It’s Fox News, I tell ya, that gives you these crazy ideas.)

            3) I’ll be giving Obama and the government their space to investigate and respond.

          • f1b0nacc1

            1) Comedy is SUPPOSED to be unnecessary and show poor judgment….that is the whole point.
            2) Feminists are humorless fanatics, and those are NEVER funny. Are they as bad as the Islamists? Of course not but they aren’t raised in theocracies either, so they lack viable excuses. As for Fox News, I don’t even have cable, and haven’t for some time. Has it occurred to you that those who disagree with you might have principled reasons?
            3) Obama’s response has been ‘tempered’ thus far. As for giving him ‘space’, it isn’t as if there is much alternative, but my hopes are not high.

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) A comedy about a fictional country or dictator is how we are supposed to laugh. Real international relations are somewhat different. We have lots of troops in South Korea who do not need to be put in danger for our laughs.
            Kim is unpredictable. Sony should have considered that—–but they didn’t and a very unpredictable thing happened to them.

            2) Glad to hear you’re not watching Fox. I do not have cable either anymore, I’ll have to think up something else to blame your principles on if they MUST include the odd jump from Kim to Islamists to feminists.

            3) Obama’s statement today leaves little doubt we will respond in kind. We all know why military options would be an over-escalation. The list of ways to retaliate are somewhat limited, but they’ll find one in time.

          • f1b0nacc1

            1) So thinly disguised references to dictators (“The Great Dictator”, Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, comes immediately to mind) are beyond the pale? What about stories involving the assassination of living leaders? There was a big controversy years ago about a play based on the assassination of Bush…did you feel that was irresponsible? Had the playwright been attacked by an angry mob would you have said that this was a predictable outcome? The broader point is that once you concede that a dangerous dictator puts us in a position where we should forgo our rights to free speech because he might get angry, you have given him a great deal of power and limited our freedoms. That is the point here….if the government is to have any purpose, it is to protect us in order to ensure those rights, this is something that you have not addressed.
            2) Consider it a principled observation…I consider many of yours to be odd, even bizarre, but I do you the courtesy of conceding that you form your ideas from genuinely held beliefs, not simply delusions. You might consider trying the same…
            3) Obama makes many statements (remember those red lines?), most of them are just talk. As for military options, I am not sure that all options are unreasonable or undesirable here. After all, if the Norks (or for that matter, the Chinese) engage in aggressive actions against us which they then deny, we could always do the same. It wouldn’t be hard, for instance, for one of the Nork cell-phone jamming towers (which they use to block outside communications with the rest of the world) to be destroyed by unidentifiable weapons. For that matter, we could counterfeit (or even legally purchase through a third party, the Chinese sell to ANYONE) someone else’s weapons, and use them. Of course they would know it was us, but we could deny it…hardly a new trick. More to the point however, the Norks can be punished in any number of ways, and the Chinese can be reminded that if they choose to support the Norks, we can support some of their enemies (the Japanese or the South Koreans, to say nothing of the Taiwanese) with much aggressive arms sales, even encouragement that they consider their own nuclear programs.
            Ultimately, this is about international norms, and if we do not as a nation defend free speech as an irreducible norm, speech will be blanketed by the censorship of the most restrictive loony. You oppose federalizing health-care policy as ‘a race to the bottom’, can you not see that failing to establish a norm preventing dictators from stifling speech that they do not like (and ‘irresponsible’ is entirely in the eye of the beholder) in other countries is a far more likely, and more dangerous, race to the bottom?

    • jeburke

      Maybe so, but then the ability if filmmakers to make whatever films they want is not something Americans want to sacrifice to the whims of some foreign potentate.

      • mdmusterstone

        What about a domestic potentate as in The Innocence of Muslims?

      • FriendlyGoat

        Of course we don’t “like” this. But computer networks and hacking are what they are in this era. That’s the hard part.

  • Nevis07

    Part of me feels like it’s not a big deal. But it does seem comparable to the case from a few years ago of the Dutch newspaper and the Mohammad cartoon depiction. We were righteously outraged when the thought of personal constitutional freedoms were threatened upon then. Maybe it just feels different this time because it’s a big corporation, whom few have great sympathy for?

  • jeburke

    Since this is at its core a national security matter involving a belligerent adversary, the silence from Obama is deafening. The guy blabs about everything and rarely misses a day without being on TV. There were — and are — countermoves, both cyber and direct, that the US could take to make NK pay a price for this kind of cyberterrorism.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      Exactly. This is an act of war by a hostile foreign power and what does Obama do or say? Nothing. I realize he is busy at the moment appeasing the Castro brothers but I thought this man was an intellectual giant? Surely he can appease two Communist dictators at the same time.

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