Another day, another campaign of fearmongering in America: North Korea’s cyberattack on Sony

Summary: Another day, another campaign by the fearmongers to terrify America. Leaks from anonymous officials, amplified by cybersecurity and national security experts (noses planted in the trough) — journalists eager to fill the space between ads — and its time for war with North Korea (again). First post in this series; see links to the others at the end.

Truth, not Pravda, Will Make You Free


Polls show the American public has low confidence in government and journalists. With the exception of our police and military, whom most Americans hold in high regard. Journalists, who we trust not at all, are even more credulous — with a child-like trust in the words of government officials (at least, that’s how they report the news). That’s not the problem.

Unfortunately for us, government officials — civilian and military, high and low — lie. A lot. Often. As we see months after the news hits the tape, in the frequent (but little noticed) corrections.

The list is endless. And about the Warren Commission Report… But that is not the problem. Too often we believe government officials: journalists, geopolitical experts, us. We’re credulous, gullible. That’s the problem, one of our most serious. It cripples our ability to clearly see the world and respond to events. We spend our time alternating between rage and fear about largely imaginary threats. This makes us easy to rule, since it renders us incapable of self-government.

Now the cycle begins anew. Government officials accuse North Korea, one of the small poor nations George Bush Jr. puffed up into the “Axis of Evil” that threatened the West, of hacking Sony. The result is embarrassment for its executives and some financial loss to that already troubled mega-corp.  So (again) the US government provokes hysterics, as our hawks urge that we arrest the usual suspects.

A week ago the ball started rolling with leaks pointing to North Korea, and bizarrely speculative reasoning — like this by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of House Intelligence Committee): ” North Korea denied responsibility but did not condemn the attacks.” See their response here. We should worry about that reasoning, since Rogers is a former FBI agent. Update: here’s the brief FBI statement blaming North Korea for the attack on Sony. This afternoon Reuters serves the usual weak tea on which our geopolitical experts go insanely hawkish:


North Korea has denied it was behind the hacking, but security experts in Washington said it was an open secret Pyongyang was responsible. … The White House National Security Council said the United States was investigating the Sony breach and would provide an update about who did it at the appropriate time. “The U.S. government is working tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, and we are considering a range of options in weighing a potential response,” NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said …

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned theaters and other businesses associated with “The Interview” on Tuesday that they could be targeted in cyber-attacks, according a copy of the document reviewed by Reuters. Still, several U.S. national security officials told Reuters the government had no credible evidence of a physical threat to moviegoers.


North Korea, dark in the night
A satellite photo showing the great cyber-power North Korea, dark in the night.


An hour later Reuters served up some word salad from the White House, garnished with bold words from nameless officials:

The United States said on Thursday a cyber attack on Sony Pictures was a serious national security matter and the Obama administration was considering a proportional response, although the White House stopped short of blaming North Korea. U.S. government sources said on Wednesday that investigators had determined the attack was “state sponsored” and that North Korea was the government involved. A U.S. government official said on Thursday that U.S. investigators were looking into the possibility that Iran assisted North Korea.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was not in a position to say that North Korea was responsible, but the investigation was “progressing.” He said the attack was an example of “destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor” … national security leaders “would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response.” .. He said the United States viewed the attack as “a serious national security matter” that President Barack Obama was monitoring very closely.

Cue the roar! Kent Harrington on Reuters’ own “opinion and analysis” page links to the above and says …

“U.S. officials have now determined that North Korea was behind the devastating cyber attack. The rogue nation is also linked to the terrorist threats against any movie theaters that show Sony’s “The Interview”, a comedy thriller about a U.S. plot to assassinate North Korea’s 31-year-old supreme leader, Kim Jong-un.

Since anonymous government officials said so — giving no evidence — it must be true. That’s journalism in New America. The Right-wing media goes to war (again). Business Insider discusses how we should respond. Investors Business Daily says “The Sony Hack Was An Act of War, Not A ‘Crime’.”  The cranks on the Right go nuts (you know the drill, so I’ll skip the examples). How sad that the information superhighway doesn’t make us smarter.

Magic Hat Money

Reuters’ Harrington goes to the heart of these fearmongering campaigns: money. North Korea’s entire GDP is roughly $12 billion. DoD says it spends aprox $5 billion on cybersecurity (Cyber Command’s take doubled this year to $447 million). Only a few know how much the other agencies (e.g., NSA) spend on this. Yet the call is more more (DoD’s budgeting: fighting a fire with kerosene) …

The Obama administration has already sounded the alarm about the shortcomings in U.S. cyber defenses. Testifying this year before Congress, Admiral Michael Rogers, chief of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, warned about the growing dangers. The Defense Department, he emphasized, has limited ability to protect the country in this area. Rogers called for wide-ranging action, including investments in advanced technology to protect both business and government infrastructure.

As usual, a few lonely voices on the fringes of the news media provide a skeptical view. We don’t know who did the hack (Sony has many enemies, inside and out). It’s not that serious. Corporations should maintain better security (with corporate profits at record highs by so many measures, they can afford it — even if they have to cut senior managers’ pay by a few percent).

  1. Sony Hack: Studio Security Points to Inside Job, The Hollywood Report, 3 December 2014.
  2. North Korea Almost Certainly Did Not Hack Sony“, Kim Zetter, Wired, 17 December 2014.
  3. Reaction to the Sony Hack Is ‘Beyond the Realm of Stupid’“, Jason Koebler, Motherboard, 17 December 2014.

For those who like facts with their news, in 2011 Marcus Ranum explained the difficulty of attribution (identifying your attacker) in cyberspace.

Say "no" to fearmongering


For good reason most of the public policy campaigns in America seek to arouse fear. They know us well. The most common reaction to this kind of analysis: apathy, the response of subjects. We do have other choices. We can decide not to believe without evidence, today. Just for one day. If it feels good, if the sky does not fall, we can try skepticism again tomorrow.

Eventually a new day will dawn in America when we have the strength to laugh in the face of these fear bombardments.

“{Laughter} is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.”
— Screwtape writing to his nephew

For More Information

(a)  Other posts in this series:

  1. Another day, another campaign of fearmongering in America: North Korea’s cyberattack on Sony., 18 December 2014
  2. The FBI told their story about North Korea attacking Sony. Before we retaliate, read what they didn’t tell you., 20 December 2014
  3. Why do we believe, when the government lies to us so often? When we change, the government also will change., 22 December 2014
  4. See how the news shapes our beliefs about the North Korea hack, 23 December 2014
  5. Marcus Ranum explains a major challenge of cyberwar: About Attribution (identifying your attacker).

(b)  See all posts about Information & disinformation, in the new media & the old.

(c)  About journalists and government:

  1. The media discover info ops, with outrage!, 22 April 2008.
  2. Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable, 30 April 2008.
  3. The media rolls over and plays dead for Obama, as it does for all new Presidents, 19 February 2009.
  4. Journalists, relying on anonymous government sources, attack anonymous bloggers who correct journalists’ errors, 25 July 2010.
  5. Examples of America’s broken vision. Here’s why we cannot clearly see our world., 21 October 2012.
  6. Learning to see beyond the American Pravda, 24 May 2013.


Fear: If allowed free reign...



8 thoughts on “Another day, another campaign of fearmongering in America: North Korea’s cyberattack on Sony”

  1. They have attacked Sony! Why they have attacked us! You know, you personally! Like Boeing, Raytheon, Booz Allen, etc. To your wallets! Sony needs your financial support in the form of US tax dollars, i.e., Cyber Command. Poor little Sony couldn’t afford to protect the personal emails of company employees and brass. You did buy the Xbox IV to help indoctrinate your kid into signing up to be a Star Ship Trooper … for real? If not, get out their and do your patriotic duty!

  2. Both the government and the mainstream media are bought and payed for by higher powers be they world banks, global corporations or shadow governments so it should really be no surprise that there is an agenda that doesn’t have the little peoples best interests in mind.

    1. gairman,

      I think that’s correct, but too binary to be useful.

      In a society with such high inequality, almost everybody and everything is “bought” by the 1%. Only the degree matters.

      As you note, the news media are a key institution. So more effort is taken by our leaders to ensure journalists ‘ compliance. They’re paid better (than for, example, me) — and pressured more. But there are rogues there also. Institutions like McClatchy Newspapers, individuals (prominent but on the fringe) like Matt Taibbi and Glen Greenwald.

  3. Fascinating. Well noted FM.

    Bloomberg tells us NK will be dealt with per the POTUS! ….whatever this silly Movie was about and whatever this Japanese Co may have suffered. Madness.

    This overt campaign of fear has a long history. Watergate? Roger Ailes worked for Nixon. Haldeman and Nixon are on video discussing destroying the TV Networks and setting up a faux news Network to get the right message out.

    AMERICA sinks deeper…….the die is cast.


  4. Pingback: The FBI told their story about North Korea attacking Sony. Before we retaliate, read what they didn’t tell you. | Under the gray line

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