Obama signs executive order imposing new sanctions on North Korea

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 4.31.50 PMU.S. government says this is the ‘first step’ in its response to North Korea after the country’s intelligence agency attacked Sony Pictures for producing the movie ‘The Interview’


After last month’s cyber-attacks on Sony Pictures, President Obama signed an executive order on January 2 imposing new economic sanctions against North Korea.  North Korea attacked the company’s computer network for making The Interview, a satirical movie in which the CIA recruits two celebrity talk show hosts in a plot to assassinate the dictator of North Korea.  This is the first time in American history, which we know of, where the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on a country for committing a cyber-attack on an American company.

In the order, Obama accused North Korea of “destructive, coercive cyber-related actions during November and December 2014,” saying they constituted a “continuing threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.”

Although some experts on cyber warfare and cyber security have questioned North Korea’s role in the attacks on Sony, the U.S. government says it is “very confident in the attribution” based on data gathered through an FBI investigation.  Just before the President left for vacation in Hawaii, Obama said that the U.S. government’s response to North Korea will be proportional. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement shortly after that this is “the first aspect of our response.” Government officials would not confirm if the U.S.  had anything to do with the recent internet blackout in North Korea last week.

“Not going to comment on what may or may not be happening,” one U.S. administration official said. “You should see this for what it is – the first step in our proportional response.”

North Korea’s response to the sanctions was visceral.  The country’s state-run KCNA news agency said on January 4 that “The policy persistently pursued by the U.S. to stifle the DPRK, groundlessly stirring up bad blood towards it, will only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country.” “The persistent and unilateral action taken by the White House to slap ‘sanctions’ against the DPRK patently proves that it is still not away from inveterate repugnancy and hostility towards the DPRK,” the foreign ministry said.  The executive order permits the Treasury Department to block business transactions, freeze assets and stop any officials or agencies of the North Korean government and the Workers’ Party of North Korea from accessing U.S.  financial markets.

Pyongyang requested a joint investigation into the cyber-attack on Sony but the U.S. rejected the demand.  Mark Stroh, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said “The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions.”

“If the North Korean government wants to help, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused,” Stroh said.  So far more than a dozen targets have been mentioned by the U.S. government for sanctions – three North Korean government agencies and ten government officials – as well as the government’s main intelligence agency that runs the DPRKs “major cyber operations.” However, some of these individuals are listed as being based in or working from Russia, China, Syria and Namibia which could make it difficult for the U.S. to impose sanctions on them.

“The order is not targeted at the people of North Korea, but rather is aimed at the Government of North Korea and its activities that threaten the United States and others,” Obama said in a letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Although the sanctions will have little or no impact on the behaviour of the regime, it does send a message to other nations that the U.S. is willing to punish countries for acts of cyber-warfare against its economic interests.

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