TIME intelligence

FBI Accuses North Korea in Sony Hack

North Korean leader Kim inspects the Artillery Company under the KPA Unit 963, in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Artillery Company under the Korean People's Army Unit 963 in Pyongyang on Dec. 2, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

Fallout led Sony to pull The Interview

The FBI on Friday accused the North Korean government of being behind the devastating hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that eventually prompted it to cancel the release of The Interview, the first formal statement that the U.S. government has concluded the isolated nation is responsible for the cyberattack.

“The FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible,” the bureau said in a statement. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart.”

President Barack Obama, asked Friday about Sony’s decision to pull The Interview, said: “Yes, I think they made a mistake”

The FBI said it determined North Korea was responsible based on an analysis of the malware involved and its similarities to previous attacks the U.S. government has attribute to North Korean-allied hackers, including an assault on South Korean banks and media outlets in 2013. These include “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,” the FBI said in its statement. According to the FBI, the malware used in the attack communicated with known North Korean computers. The FBI didn’t furnish evidence to back its assertion that North Korea was involved. North Korea has denied being behind the hack.

Read more: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

Bureau investigators have been working for weeks with Sony executives and private security experts to investigate the scale and origins of the attack. For Sony, the hack has been devastating: It crippled the studio’s infrastructure, leaked sensitive documents about tens of thousands of employees and contractors, embarrassed executives and resulted in the studio’s decision to pull, The Interview, a movie whose plot centers around the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film incensed the North Korean government.

Read more: 4 things every single person can learn from the Sony hack

The FBI did not say whether the attack was coordinated from within North Korea or through allies outside the hermit kingdom. The FBI said it could only provide limited information to the public to protect its sources and methods.

President Barack Obama is expected to address the incident on Friday afternoon in a White House news conference. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was treating the incident as a “serious national security matter.”

White House officials have convened daily meetings to discuss the attack and to devise options for a “proportional response,” Earnest said, not ruling out an American counter-attack on North Korean systems.

“The FBI’s announcement that North Korea is responsible for the attack on Sony Pictures is confirmation of what we suspected to be the case: that cyber terrorists, bent on wreaking havoc, have violated a major company to steal personal information, company secrets and threaten the American public,” Chris Dodd, who heads the trade group Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement. “It is a despicable, criminal act.”

See the full FBI statement:

Today, the FBI would like to provide an update on the status of our investigation into the cyber attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). In late November, SPE confirmed that it was the victim of a cyber attack that destroyed systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data. A group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against SPE, its employees, and theaters that distribute its movies.

The FBI has determined that the intrusion into SPE’s network consisted of the deployment of destructive malware and the theft of proprietary information as well as employees’ personally identifiable information and confidential communications. The attacks also rendered thousands of SPE’s computers inoperable, forced SPE to take its entire computer network offline, and significantly disrupted the company’s business operations.

After discovering the intrusion into its network, SPE requested the FBI’s assistance. Since then, the FBI has been working closely with the company throughout the investigation. Sony has been a great partner in the investigation, and continues to work closely with the FBI. Sony reported this incident within hours, which is what the FBI hopes all companies will do when facing a cyber attack. Sony’s quick reporting facilitated the investigators’ ability to do their jobs, and ultimately to identify the source of these attacks.

As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:

· Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.

· The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. Government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

· Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.

We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt – whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise – to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.

The FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential business information. Further, the FBI will continue to work closely with multiple departments and agencies as well as with domestic, foreign, and private sector partners who have played a critical role in our ability to trace this and other cyber threats to their source. Working together, the FBI will identify, pursue, and impose costs and consequences on individuals, groups, or nation states who use cyber means to threaten the United States or U.S. interests.

TIME intelligence

White House Doesn’t Rule Out Cybercounterattack in Sony Hack

Calls it a "serious national security matter"

The White House is treating the massive hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment as a “serious national security matter” and is currently devising a “proportional response” to the cyberattack, press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Earnest said there have been a number of daily meetings at the White House about the hack, and that there are “a range of options that are under consideration right now” for a response. Earnest would not rule out a U.S. cybercounterattack on those behind the Sony hack, saying officials are mindful of the need for a “proportional response.”

“This is something that’s being treated as a serious national security matter,” he said. “There is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor.”

Read more: Everything we know about Sony, The Interview and North Korea

Earnest would not publicly name the “sophisticated actor” behind the attack, even as U.S. officials have linked North Korea to the hack — something Pyongyang has denied. “I’m not in a position to confirm any attribution at this point,” Earnest said.

The incident remains under investigation by the FBI and the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, and Earnest said those efforts are “progressing.” Earnest said it’s unlikely officials will be able to fully disclose the eventual response. “I don’t anticipate that we’ll be in a position where we’re gonna be able to be completely forthcoming about every single element of the response that has been decided upon,” he said.

Asked about Sony’s decision to pull the film The Interview from distribution in response to threats of 9/11-style attacks from hackers, Earnest said: “The White House stands squarely on the side of artists and other private citizens who want to freely express their views.”

Read more: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s movie critic did

“This is a decision that Sony should make,” Earnest added. “This is a private company.”

The hack exposed reams of employees’ data and embarrassing email exchanges between executives. It came as Sony was preparing to release The Interview, which has been fiercely criticized by North Korea for depicting a fictional assassination attempt of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. With a growing number of movie theaters saying they wouldn’t screen the film amid the threads of attack, Sony canceled its release late Wednesday.

“Administration officials were consulted about the film prior to its release at the request of the company that was producing the movie,” Earnest said, confirming that officials had screened the film.

TIME intelligence

U.S. Sees North Korea as Culprit in Sony Hack

Fallout prompted studio to pull The Interview

American officials have determined the government of North Korea is connected to the hack that left Sony Entertainment Pictures reeling and eventually prompted it to pull a movie critical of the country’s leader, a U.S. official confirmed Wednesday.

Much remains unclear about the nature of North Korea’s involvement. The country, while lauding the hack against Sony, has denied being behind it. There were conflicting reports Wednesday evening, and officials are expected to unveil their findings Thursday. But the U.S. official confirmed to TIME that intelligence officials have indeed determined North Korea was behind the hack, one of the worst cyberattacks ever against an American company.

The New York Times, citing senior Obama Administration officials, reported that intelligence officials have determined North Korea was “centrally involved.” NBC News, also citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported that the Americans believe the hacking came from outside North Korea itself, but that the hackers were acting on orders from Pyongyang.

MORE: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

The hack exposed reams of company data, including employees’ emails and salaries. A group calling itself the Guardians of Peace claimed credit. And analysts have speculated North Korea was behind an attack that came before the scheduled release of The Interview, a Sony movie that depicts American journalists enlisted by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (North Korean officials have criticized the movie.) Threats of 9/11-style attacks against theaters that show the movie led many theaters to say this week that they wouldn’t screen it, which prompted Sony to cancel the scheduled Christmas Day release altogether.

“We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called the hack against Sony “very serious,” but suggested authorities have yet to find any credibility in the threat of attacks against theaters.

“For now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies,” Obama said.

TIME intelligence

Attorney General Allows Limited Subpoena of New York Times Journalist

A man crosses the Central Intelligence A
A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

Attorney General Eric Holder has given federal prosecutors permission to subpoena New York Times reporter James Risen for some information regarding his connection to a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Though New York Times reporter James Risen has been adamant about not revealing his sources and the Department of Justice indicated last week it would not force the Pulitzer Prize winner to reveal who his sources were, prosecutors announced Tuesday they will be seeking his testimony in the case of Jeffery Sterling.

The Department of Justice charged Sterling, a former agent, of unlawfully obtaining documents and spilling national secrets in 2010, and subsequently accused him of being a source in Risen’s 2006 book State of War.

Information regarding confidentiality agreements for Risen’s book, whether articles and chapters from his book, “accurately reflect information provided to him by his source (or sources), that statements attributed to an unnamed source were, in fact, made by an unnamed source, and that statements attributed to an identified source were, in fact, made by an identified source” will be sought during the trial, scheduled to begin on Jan. 12.

According to a court filing, prosecutors needed approval in regard to the subpoena given new Department of Justice guidelines on seeking information from the news media. The guidance, issued in July, provides some protection from members of the media in civil and criminal proceedings. The guidance came following scandals involving the DOJ seizing phone records and emails of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News.

Media organizations and advocacy groups including the Newspaper Association of America have been calling on Congress to pass a law that would protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources in criminal and civil proceedings without having to face legal consequences.

A federal judge in Virginia requested last week that the federal attorneys come to a clear decision on whether or not they would subpoena Risen by Tuesday.

Requests for comment from Risen’s attorneys were not immediately answered.

TIME intelligence

People Are Complaining the Torture Report Is ‘Unreadable’ on Amazon Kindle

Reviews on Amazon.com about the Senate torture report

The Kindle may not be the best place to read the torture report

The Senate report on CIA interrogation tactics is too hard to read on the Kindle, Amazon customers are saying.

The report, which details the brutal tactics—now widely condemned as torture—employed by the CIA in order to interrogate terrorism suspects, and faults the agency for misleading the White House and Congress about it. But the report is “unreadable” on the Kindle, according to customer reviews.

One verified purchaser said “don’t waste your money — unreadable on a kindle.” Another reviewer said, “Don’t bother with this unless you can read it on a large screen; it’s basically a pdf and you can get it for free from the committee web site.”
Another reviewer said the report was readable on the Kindle iPad app, and the PDF is available for free from the New York Times, PBS, and others—and you can read it here.
TIME intelligence

Scalia Defends CIA Tactics After Torture Report

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" on April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" on April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

The conservative Supreme Court justice says sometimes it might be necessary

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in a new interview that the use of harsh interrogation techniques now widely condemned as torture might not be unconstitutional.

The 78-year-old jurist, part of the court’s conservative wing, said the there’s nothing in the constitution that prohibits harsh treatment of terror suspects.

His remarks came during an interview with a Swiss radio station that aired Thursday, the Associated Press reports. They followed the release of a Senate report the faulted the CIA for lying to the Bush White House and to Congress about the methods and their effectiveness.

MORE: What the torture report reveals about Zero Dark Thirty

Scalia pointed to the oft-cited “ticking time bomb” argument, saying it would be difficult to rule out the use of torture to get information from terror suspects if millions of lives were at stake, and said he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all” that such tactics should be prohibited in all cases.

[AP]

TIME intelligence

The Twitter Debate Between the CIA and the Senator Behind the Torture Report

Sen. Dianne Feinstein oversaw the compilation of the 6,700 page report — and has a license to fact-check

While CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein took to Twitter to fact-check his assertions. Feinstein, the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led the compilation of the 6,700 page report.

Here are statements Brennan made during the press conference, and what Feinstein tweeted about their accuracy:

Brennan: “The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”

Brennan: “Another key point with which we take issue is the study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to the Congress, the media and within the executive branch, including at the White House. The record simply does not support the study’s inference that the agency repeatedly, systematically and intentionally misled others on the effectiveness of the program.”

Brennan: “[CIA professionals] are a testament to our history and our spirit, and a consistent reminder of the women and men who make sacrifices daily so that they can help keep their fellow Americans safe and our country strong.”

Brennan: “There was information obtained subsequent to the application of EITs from detainees that was useful in the bin Laden operation.”

Brennan: “But as I think we have acknowledged over the years, we have brought those mistakes, shortcomings and excesses to the attention of the appropriate authorities, whether it be to our inspector general, to the Department of Justice and others. As you well know, the Department of Justice looked at this for many years and decided that there was no prosecutable crimes there.”

Finally, Sen. Feinstein concluded with advice to Brennan:

 

TIME intelligence

CIA Director Defends Agency Over Senate Report

"Our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time," John Brennan said

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations in a rare press conference Thursday.

Speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., Brennan called the report “flawed,” chafed at its level of disclosure, and disagreed with the report’s conclusions that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were ineffective. Brennan called the efficacy of those tactics, which included waterboarding and sleep-deprivation, “unknowable.”

Brennan opened his public statement with a drawn-out reminiscence of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, calling it the “backdrop” for the use of those tactics. “Whatever your views are on EITs, our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time,” he said.

Casting the efforts of the agency as a scramble to protect the nation after the deaths of nearly 3,000 fellow citizens, Brennan acknowledged that the CIA was in “uncharted territory” with the interrogation and detention programs, and had made mistakes.

“I look back at the record and I see this was a workforce that was trying to do the right thing,” Brennan said. “I cannot say with certainty that individuals acted with complete honesty.”

The CIA director questioned the Senate panel’s decision not to interview the officers involved in carrying out or overseeing the program to understand their perspective. “I think it’s lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to interact with CIA personnel,” he said.

Under questions from reporters, Brennan openly complained about the contents of the Senate report. “I think there’s been more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple of days,” Brennan said. “I think it’s over the top.”

Brennan refused to characterize some of the CIA’s activities as “torture,” despite President Obama’s declaration in August that “we tortured some folks.” He would only concede that some officers “exceeded the policy guidance that was given,” adding that they were “abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.”

Brennan would only concede that the use of coercive techniques had a high likelihood of producing false information.

“We fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” Brennan added. The Department of Justice ended criminal probes of the practices in 2012 without charging any of the officers involved.

Weighing into one of the most contentious debates about the utility of program, Brennan said it was a fact that detainees subjected to brutal interrogation techniques provided information that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“I am not going to attribute that to the use of the EITs,” Brennan said. “I am just going to state as a matter of fact the information they provided was used.”

Saying the detention and interrogation program ended seven years ago, “my fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward.”

TIME intelligence

Watch Live: CIA Director Addresses Reporters About Torture Report

CIA Director John Brennan is addressing reporters Thursday afternoon for the first time since the release of a Senate report that faulted the agency for brutal Bush-era interrogation tactics and for misleading Congress and the White House about it.

Watch the news conference live above.

TIME intelligence

Dick Cheney Says Senate Torture Report Is ‘Full of Crap’

“It's a terrible piece of work”

In an interview that aired on Fox News Wednesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney called the recently released report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 a “terrible piece of work.”

“It’s a classic example of what you see too often in Washington where a group of politicians get together and sort of throw the professionals under the bus,” Cheney said.

He called the report, which found that the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees, “deeply flawed,” noting that the Senate Democrats that wrote the report did not interview any key subjects.

“We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack,” Cheney said. “We were successful on both parts.”

He added, when the anchor pressed him on the fact that the report found otherwise, “The report is full of crap, excuse me.”

[Fox News]

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