N Korea urges joint Sony hack probe
North Korea has proposed a joint investigation with the US into the hacking attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, warning of "serious" consequences if Washington rejects a probe that it believes would prove Pyongyang had nothing to do with the cyber attack.
The proposal was seen by analysts as a typical ploy by the North to try to show that it is sincere, even though it knows the US would never accept its offer for a joint investigation.
US officials blame North Korea for the hacking, citing the tools used in the Sony attack and previous hacks linked to the North, and have vowed to respond.
The break-in resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files, and escalated to threats of terror attacks against US cinemas that caused Sony to cancel the Christmas Day release of The Interview, a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pyongyang proposed the joint investigation with the US, saying the North knows how to prove it is not responsible for the hacking. He also said Washington was slandering Pyongyang by spreading unfounded rumours.
"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 counter measures while finding fault with" North Korea, the spokesman said.
"We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture, as the CIA does," he said, adding that the US lacks any specific evidence tying North Korea to the hacking.
Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, called the North's proposal a "typical" tactic the country has taken in similar disputes with rival countries.
In 2010, North Korea proposed a joint investigation after a South Korean-led international team concluded that the North was behind a torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors, though Pyongyang denied its involvement. South Korea rejected the North's offer for the joint probe.
"They are now talking about a joint investigation because they think there is no conclusive evidence," Mr Koh said. "But the US won't accede to a joint investigation for the crime."
President Barack Obama has declared that Sony "made a mistake" in shelving the satirical film about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, and pledged that the US would respond "in a place and manner and time that we choose" to the hacking attack on Sony that led to the movie's withdrawal.
"I wish they had spoken to me first. ... We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship," Mr Obama said at a year-end news conference, speaking of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Sony said it had no choice but to cancel distribution of the movie because cinemas were refusing to show it.
US options for acting against North Korea are limited. The US already has severe trade sanctions in place, and there is no appetite for military action.
Even if investigators could identify and prosecute the individual hackers believed responsible, there is no guarantee that any located are overseas would ever see a US courtroom. Hacking back at North Korean targets by US government experts could encourage further attacks against American targets.
In Washington, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, Mark Stroh, said the US stands by the FBI's conclusion that "the North Korean government is responsible for this destructive attack".
"The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions," Mr Stroh said. "If the North Korean government wants to help, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused."