The internet is alive today with reports that the November hack of Sony Studios was not, after all, the result of North Korean hacking – rather it was done by a disgruntled Sony employee working with free-lance hackers.
Why should we care?
For one thing, much of our economy, public utilities, banking and other essential services are vulnerable to internet hacking. If North Korea has developed the ability to damage us electronically and we are unable to defend against this threat, life is immeasurably riskier.
For another, it was the FBI – that venerable institution of objectivity and scientific precision – that publicly declared Pyongyang’s culpability in the hack which resulted in the release of private emails and social security numbers of Hollywood luminaries and culminated in a decision by Sony to cancel the opening of a film that poked fun at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
An organization like the FBI needs our respect to function effectively. If this law-enforcement bureaucracy is no more serious than a Marx Brothers movie it loses authority and effectiveness. Look at how we feel about the IRS after learning it was corrupted for political purposes. Anything the IRS now does makes us wonder if it is just collecting information for the benefit of Democrats. This is an unavoidable result of its politicization.
Even under the leadership of the FBI’s first Director, J. Edgar Hoover, who is alleged to have blackmailed American politicians with clandestine information, the Bureau was respected for its ability to make sense of the faintest of evidence and its crime lab was the most respected forensic analyst in the nation, consulted by police departments from all over the world. Now there is reason to doubt their conclusion about an internet hack. The damage to their reputation is bad for them and for a nation that relies on the objectivity and accuracy of their work.
The exact criticisms of the FBI’s investigation into the Sony hack are two-fold: they announced their conclusion very quickly considering all the threads that need to be followed in a cyber hack, and much of the evidence being unearthed by private investigators points toward a disgruntled Sony ex-employee who might have enlisted the help of free-lance hackers.
The cyber intelligence community has grown with the expansion of hacking. Kurt Stammberger, Senior Vice-President of the cyber intelligence firm Norse, is quoted in a recent Politico article as thinking the FBI’s public denunciation of North Korea came too soon to have allowed a full investigation. The Politico article also cites a “linguistic analysis” done by another firm, Taia Global, that concludes Russian is more likely than Korean to be the hacker’s native tongue.
And a New York Post article published December 30 reports the Sony hack was so specifically targeted as to point toward a disgruntled employee “laid off in a May restructuring of the studio”.
It is sad when respected agencies of American government appear to be corrupt or incompetent, and more worrisome than sad when that incompetence could threaten the institutions of our daily life like banks or the electrical grid. The December 19 announcement that North Korea was responsible for the hack of Sony Studios casts just such a shadow over the FBI.
Fred LaSor retired to the Carson Valley after a career overseas with the U.S. Government. He and his wife are keen observers of American life and politics.