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Did North Korea Benefit From The Sony Cyberattack?


Fallout from the crippling cyberattack on Sony Pictures continues. And a new country is now involved in all of this - China. The Obama administration has reached out to the People's Republic for help in preventing future North Korean hacks. So far, Chinese officials have not responded.

Meanwhile, North Korea still denies any involvement in the Sony hack, even as the FBI pointed the finger at them Friday. North Korea has issued a proposal for a joint investigation into the incident. The U.S. isn't interested. And President Obama now says he will review whether to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Victor Cha joins me now in studio for more. He is a professor at Georgetown University, and he served as director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush Welcome, Victor.

VICTOR CHA: Thank you.

MARTIN: The FBI says it is confident the hack came from North Korea. Is that realistic? Could North Korea pull this off?

CHA: Well, you know, we didn't think they could beforehand. The things that we've seen from them - the attacks against the South Korean businesses and media have been much more primitive kind of attacks - DDOS, denial of service attacks. This was clearly a step up. And I think for many, it was surprising.

MARTIN: What about the response from Pyongyang - to ask for a joint investigation with the U.S., do you find that surprising? Why not just take credit for it?

CHA: Yeah. It's a good question. I mean, it's part of North Korean behavior. I mean, they do these sorts of things and then try to deny them, but at the same time applaud them. We've seen them do this with other attacks against South Korea, sinking of a naval vessel, for example. And this idea of a joint investigation is just absurd, but it's very typical of North Korean behavior.

MARTIN: Do you think North Korea and the regime there has benefited from all of this no matter who is to blame for the actual hack?

CHA: Sure. I think so in two senses. One is that they like the attention. They feel like they've been pushed to the margins. And they, of course, like it when all the media in the west are talking about this.

But also in the sense that, you know, they are trying to build a portfolio of asymmetric capabilities, whether its ballistic missiles, weapons of mass destruction. And cyber has clearly been one of these elements. They've been working on this for quite some time. And they're exhibiting this capability now.

MARTIN: President Obama said strongly that there would be some kind of response. What would that even look like do you think since there are no multinational corporations like Sony and North Korea to hack?

CHA: Yeah. I mean, you know, one idea that people talk about is moving toward sanctions, putting them back on the terrorism list. I certainly think those are plausible responses. But the other is actually to go in the opposite direction, which is not to cut North Korea off from information and information technology, but really to try to flood the country with it so that they can break the regime's hold on information that they keep from the people.

MARTIN: So what do you make of all this in the big picture? Is this just yet another incremental change in the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea? Or is this more substantial do you think?

CHA: I think it's pretty substantial just because North Korea has threatened us before with nuclear weapons and lots of statements at a very high level. But this is something that actually was effecting - it's affecting the American people. I mean, it's affecting them in the sense that this is a movie they can't go see on Christmas Day. And I think it touches us more in a way than the North Koreans have done before. And I think for many, they understand the North Korean threat better than they did two weeks ago.

MARTIN: Victor Cha is a professor at Georgetown University. He is also the author of the book "The Impossible State: North Korea, Past And Future." He joined us here in our Washington studios. Victor, thanks so much for coming in.

CHA: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.