The Sony hack: Why the US is blaming North Korea

One question that keeps surfacing about the Sony hack is Info security legend Bruce Schneier notes the US “might have intelligence on the planning process for the hack” which together with the evidence from the act were enough for the White House to name North Korea.

But with so many doubts and caveats buzzing about North Korea’s role, it was a second observation from Schneier that seemed to make even more sense.

North Korea (WikiCommons)
North Korea (WikiCommons)

He quotes a George Washington University cyber security research scientist named Allan Friedman, who said that diplomatically it’s “a smart strategy” for the US to be overconfident in assigning blame for cyberattacks. As Schneier relates Friedman’s view:

Beyond the politics of this particular attack, the long-term US interest is to discourage other nations from engaging in similar behaviour. If the North Korean government continues denying its involvement, no matter what the truth is, and the real attackers have gone underground, then the US decision to claim omnipotent powers of attribution serves as a warning to others that they will get caught if they try something like this.

Add to this that there is hardly any downside for the US to blame North Korea, the speed and confidence of the accusation makes sense. If there is one place in the world people will believe almost anything about, it’s North Korea. The Hermit Kingdom has few allies and North Korea’s “role” in the hacking of Sony Pictures would be less embarrassing than other, bigger rivals of the US.

North Korea finally launches some missiles

After months of warnings, North Korea fired three short-range missiles from its east coast in a north-easterly direction missing Japan.

But the fact that they’re short range missiles and they were apparently not directed to pass over any neighbors, suggest there will be less diplomatic backlash, then if they were longer range missiles, or rockets capable of putting a satellite in orbit.

From Al-Jazeera’s report:

“These sorts of short range tests don’t attract the same kind of approach that longer range or nuclear tests carry with them and they were fired north easterly. So they are likely not to provoke any sort of retaliatory measure from South Korea or Japan.”

The launches come days after Japanese official Isao Iijima made a surprise visit to North Korea for talks with the president of North Korea’s parliament Kim Yong Nam. The media has speculated the talks were about improving bilateral ties after decades of a frosty relationship.

Days before the Japanese announced that the batteries of Patriot missiles in Okinawa would be kept there on a permanent basis.

Ironic convergence in Asian missile defense

There is no clearer sign that tensions in East Asia are warming up than the news that the Russians are deploying a new reconnaissance ship to snoop on US missile defense in Hawaii and Alaska. This comes after the Russians simulated a bombing run on a US missile defense radar in Japan. The Russians vehemently oppose increased US missile defences around Asia, which could compromise Russian offensive missile capabilities. The short-term catalyst for more US missile defense is North Korea, of course. Kim Jong-Un can only threaten to leave Seoul – or Washington – in a “sea of fire” so many times before the US begins shoring up defenses – even if the stories of threats may be poorly translated into English. The longer-term catalyst for increased US missile defence is China, which is developing anti-ship missiles designed to keep the US Navy further from its shores. There is a great irony the latest deployments by the US. For years, China and Russia, especially, have been glad to look the other way on North Korea’s threats because they tied up the US in Asia. Now that North Korea has ramped up the rhetoric to new levels, the US has all the justification it needs to boost its presence in the region – something neither Russia nor China wants. And they say the Cold War ended.

Australia to bring up North Korean sanctions with China

This article says Australia will “will urge China to clamp down on the flow of technology and equipment crossing its borders into North Korea, which could be used by the rogue nation in its nuclear weapons program.”

It quotes a spokesman for Australia’s foreign minister as saying UN sanctions on North Korea “would be more effective if there was tighter implementation on ships and planes travelling to North Korea, including from China.”

“That’s something we’ll be talking about when we’re in China,” the spokesman said. But the article immediately says: it is “not suggested China is breaching the sanctions.”.

(shrug)

Anyway, with billions of dollars in trade per year crossing the border between China and North Korea, you have to wonder if the occasional missile launcher finds its way into the mix. Also, it’s not clear what sway Australia, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council has over China – a permanent member.

Although the broader view is the China is holding its rhetorical fire on the US’s increased military maneuvers in South Korea, this article shows that China won’t tolerate too much of a public reconsideration of its relationship with North Korea. I like the quotes on China about the military’s unwillingness to be transparent.

“The Chinese people know how to shadow box and know even better about Sun Zi’s Art of War, so it (the military) won’t make public that which need not be known,” the official China New Service said in a commentary about the Korean tensions.

I think you could apply that to most matters with the Chinese military establishment. What the longer term effect that has on Asian-Pacific tensions and global affairs remains to be seen. But this is turning out to be a full-time feature in global affairs – the veil of secrecy held up in China that the world must navigate around.