US Officials: Decision to Name Sony Culprit Made Carefully


The U.S. government is increasingly committed to publicly calling out foreign governments when there is evidence that they are responsible for cyberattacks, a senior Justice Department official said Thursday.

Once U.S. officials determined that North Korea was behind a massive intrusion at Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., publicly announcing it was made part of the U.S. response, said Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“We know you did it, and we’re going to say you did it,” Carlin said of the government’s approach.

That decision, along with last year’s indictment of five Chinese military officials on charges of vast corporate espionage, is part of a new approach by the U.S. government to publicly identify foreign culprits behind digital attacks, Carlin said.

Law enforcement is generally loath to point fingers at suspects before an arrest is made, and standard policy has long been to keep investigative details closely held. But the U.S. government increasingly sees value in speaking out publicly when there’s evidence a foreign government was responsible.

Carlin appeared at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York, where he and other Obama administration officials reaffirmed their conclusion that North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack in the face of continued skepticism from some independent experts.

Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s homeland security adviser, said during a panel discussion that those who were challenging the government’s findings did not have access to all of the evidence the government is seeing. FBI Director James Comey made a similar point during an appearance Wednesday at the same conference.

“If you’re going to be making statements about the activities of a nation-state having crossed a threshold into very destructive and coercive action, A) you’d better be right, and B) you want to be able to do so with … people having confidence in your judgment,” Monaco said.

Joseph Demarest, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s cyber division, said it was hard to look through all the Sony evidence and reach a different conclusion.

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