The Sanctions and the Circus

“You can’t do satire anymore,” complained a humorist. “Reality is too funny!”

That observation keeps coming to mind any time there’s a news story about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. His brutality gets upstaged by his lunacy. The danger in this is that he gets viewed as a farce — a walking self-caricature — rather than a despot.

As mad as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi were, they never quite achieved Kim Jong Un’s level of buffoonery. Welcome to the satanic circus.

Now the curtain has risen on a new act in the farce. North Korea on Sunday criticized the United States for slapping sanctions on Pyongyang officials and organizations for a cyberattack on Sony — the latest fallout from a production depicting the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry denied any role in the breach of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files and accused the United States of “groundlessly” stirring up hostility toward Pyongyang. The spokesman said the new sanctions would not weaken the country’s 1.2-million-strong military.

It gets better. The North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Korean Central News Agency, that the sanctions show America’s “inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward the DPRK,” referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

What stirred up the hornets’ nest now was new sanctions imposed by the United States on Friday on 10 North Korean government officials and three organizations, including Pyongyang’s primary intelligence agency and state-run arms dealer.

What took so long to respond to North Korea’s cyberattack? The president had a hard time finding sanctions that weren’t already imposed on North Korea. And, although the United States is not anxious to go to war with a living cartoon — however evil — the White House described the new sanctions as an opening move in the response toward the Sony cyberattack.

What adds to the insanity of the entire situation is the bone the U.S. and North Korea are fighting over.

We do not want to be in any way construed as championing the entertainment industry. Sony is not the hero in this story. And — from news chatter — it seems that North Korea may have actually done the world a service by attempting to kill Sony’s production.

But we have learned from history that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

The effectiveness of the sanctions remains to be seen. North Korea already is under tough U.S. and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs. President Obama also warned Pyongyang that the United States was considering whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which could jeopardize aid to the country on a global scale.

Meanwhile, back at the cyberranch, some experts question the extent of North Korea’s involvement. Many have suggested the possibility that hackers or even Sony insiders could be the culprits, and questioned how the FBI can point the finger so conclusively.

Still, even though the FBI did not find a smoking gun — and some experts doubt North Korea’s capabilities of launching such a sophisticated attack — the first thing to look for in any crime investigation is a motive. And no one has a better motive to attack Sony’s anti-Kim Jong Un spoof than Kim Jong Un. That, the availability of cyberguns for hire, and footprints at the scene of the crime, all point to Pyongyang.

In fact, the U.S. is not claiming the 10 North Koreans singled out for sanctions were definitely involved with the attack on Sony. This is war, 21st-Century style. Anyone who works for or helps North Korea’s government is now fair game, especially North Korea’s defense sector and spying operations.

North Korea has unsurprisingly denied hacking Sony, but called the act a “righteous deed.”

And, while sanctions are the weapons of choice for the public duel, behind the cybercurtain, there was a nearly 10-hour recent shutdown of North Korean websites. The United States never said whether it was responsible, but North Korea’s National Defense Commission blamed the U.S

There remains an unanswered question regarding the report that the FBI fingered North Korea for the attack knocking out Sony’s servers and computer network, and, according to the report, dumped huge amounts of sensitive company data, emails and other intellectual property on the internet.

The question is, where — in all of Sony’s entertainment properties — was there anything that could be called “intellectual property”?