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North Korea proposes joint investigation of cyberattack

TOKYO — Warning of “serious consequences” if the United States retaliates against it over the damaging cyberattack on Sony Pictures, North Korea on Saturday insisted it was not behind the attack and offered to prove its innocence by taking part in a joint investigation with Washington to identify the hackers.

The message, attributed to an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman and carried by North Korea’s state-run news service, appeared to be the secretive government’s response to President Obama’s statement the day before that the United States would take action in response to the hacking, which has shaken one of Hollywood’s largest studios.


US officials said the hackers’ methods and other clues had led them to conclude that North Korea was behind the attack, which resulted in the posting online of confidential Sony e-mails and some unreleased movies.

The cyberattack and e-mailed threats of terrorist attacks against movie theaters prompted Sony to cancel the Christmas release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plan to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.

North Korea has previously denied responsibility for the hacking, although it called the attacks a “righteous deed” by its “supporters and sympathizers.”

On Saturday, North Korea described the US claims that it was behind the attacks as slander and warned the United States not to reject its offer of a joint investigation, said the statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, according to the Associated Press.

It quoted the unidentified spokesman as saying any joint inquiry would prove that the North was not behind the cyberattack.

“The US should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasures,” the spokesman said in the statement, the AP reported.

“We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture, as what the CIA does,” the statement said.


It is unlikely that the Obama administration will take the offer from the North seriously. While some computer experts still express doubts whether the North was actually behind the attack, US officials said it was similar to what was believed to be a North Korean cyberattack last year on South Korean banks and broadcasters.

One key similarity was the fact that the hackers erased data from the computers, something many cyber thieves do not do.

Some US officials have said that North Korea appears to have embraced cyberterrorism as its new weapon of choice for making political points and is possibly trying to extort new concessions out of the United States and its allies.

While North Korea is an impoverished nation with so little Internet usage that it is essentially a black hole in cyberspace, the attacks showed a high level of sophistication and hacking expertise.

The hackers did considerable commercial damage to Sony Pictures, posting embarrassing e-mails, detailed breakdowns of executive salaries, digital copies of unreleased movies, and even the unpublished script for an upcoming James Bond movie.

Sony said the threats against theaters left it no choice but to cancel the Dec. 25 release of “The Interview,” in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play television journalists who get a scoop interview with Kim and then find themselves recruited by the CIA to kill him.


On Friday, Obama faulted Sony’s decision to withhold the movie, saying that it created a precedent of studios giving into intimidation.

The administration has limited options for acting against North Korea and quick action would be difficult, analysts say. The United States already has severe trade sanctions in place, and military action is considered unlikely.

Even if investigators could identify and prosecute the individual hackers believed to be responsible, there’s no guarantee that any arrested overseas would see a US courtroom. Ordering US government experts to hack North Korean targets could encourage further attacks against American targets.

Earlier Saturday, North Korea angrily denounced a move by the United Nations to bring its human rights record before the Security Council and renewed its threat to further bolster its nuclear deterrent against what it called a hostile policy by the United States to topple its ruling regime, the AP reported.

Pyongyang ‘‘vehemently and categorically rejects’’ the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly that could open the door for its leaders, including Kim, to be hauled before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, according to a Foreign Ministry statement carried by KCNA.

The Security Council is due to meet Monday to discuss Pyongyang’s human rights situation for the first time.