Tag Archives: North Korea

North Korea Reactor

North Korea May Be Restarting Nuke Plant: U.S. Institute

by FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea may be attempting to restart its main nuclear bomb fuel reactor after a five-month shutdown, a U.S. research institute said Thursday.

If true, the finding, which is based on recent commercial satellite imagery, will be an added worry for the United States and the North’s neighbors at a time of increasing animosity over recent U.S. sanctions against the North and Pyongyang’s fury about a U.N. push to punish its alleged human rights abuses.

Activity at the 5-megawatt Nyongbyon reactor is closely watched because North Korea is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs, part of its efforts to build an arsenal of nuclear tipped missiles that could one day hit America’s mainland. Nyongbyon, which has produced plutonium used for past nuclear test explosions, restarted in 2013 after being shuttered under a 2007 disarmament agreement. It has been offline since August.

Possible signs in satellite imagery from Dec. 24 through Jan. 11 that the reactor is in the early stages of being restarted include hot water drainage from a pipe at a turbine building that indicates steam from the reactor and growing snow-melt on the roofs of the reactor and turbine buildings.

The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, however, said that since the recent observation period was only about two weeks, it’s too soon to reach a definitive conclusion about what’s happening and more monitoring is needed. The institute’s website, 38 North, published the findings.

Nyongybon can likely produce about one bomb’s worth of plutonium per year. A uranium enrichment facility there could also give it a second method to produce fissile material for bombs. It is not clear if North Korea has yet mastered the technology needed to make warheads small enough to be mounted on missiles, but each nuclear test presumably moves its scientists closer toward that goal.

North Korea has said it is willing to rejoin international nuclear disarmament talks last held in 2008, but Washington demands that it first take concrete steps to show it remains committed to past nuclear pledges.

The United States also rejected a recent North Korean offer to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps its annual military drills with Seoul; Pyongyang claims those drills are invasion preparation. The U.S. called the linking of the military drills, which it says are defensive and routine, with a possible nuclear test “an implicit threat.”

Always rocky ties between Pyongyang and Washington dipped lower because of a recent Hollywood movie depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The U.S. blames the North for crippling hacking attacks on the movie’s producer, Sony, and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country, inviting an angry response from Pyongyang, which has denied responsibility for the cyberattacks.

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 Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Airbus Defense and Space, Spot Image, Pleiades – CNES via 38 North.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address

North Korea Demands Sanctions to Be Lifted for Family Reunions

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North Korea urged South Korea on Friday to lift its sanctions as a condition for resuming dialogue on reunions of families separated during the Korean War, reports Reuters.

“If the South Korean government is sincerely interested in humanitarian issues, it should first remove the ban that was imposed for the purpose of confrontation,” the North Korean Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) told KCNA, the North’s state-run news agency.

This is the first official response from Pyongyang to South Korea’s weeks-long offer to hold high-level talks. Last week, South Korean President Park Geun-hye renewed the call for dialogue and stressed the importance to staging an inter-Korean family reunion for Lunar New Year’s Day, which falls on Feb. 19.

South Korea imposed the sanctions on the North after a torpedo attack on its navy ship, Cheonan, in 2010. The attack killed 46 South Korean sailors, and the sanctions froze trades and investment with the North. However, North Korea has denied responsibility for the attack.

“It is regrettable that North Korea has linked the purely humanitarian issue of separated families to the May 24 measure, which is completely irrelevant,” the South Korean Unification Ministry said of the sanctions, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, a South Korean activist group threatened to drop 100,000 DVD copies of The Interview if North Korea fails to respond to the South’s call for resuming dialogue.

Despite this, Lim Byeong-cheol, the South’s Unification Ministry spokesman, said there is no set deadline for Pyongyang to respond to family reunion talks.

“If enough time is secured for preparing a reunion, the reunion event could take place at any time,” Lim said.

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Photo courtesy of Reuters/KCNA

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Prominent North Korean Defector Retracts Key Parts of His Story

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

A prominent North Korean defector, who has become something of a star with his remarkably gruesome story of surviving captivity in a prison camp, is now retracting crucial facts from his reported life experiences.

Shin Dong-hyuk, believed to be 32, admitted that his life story, chronicled in the 2012 memoir Escaping Camp 14, is only partly true. He confessed that for most of his imprisonment, he was incarcerated in the less brutal Camp 18—not the infamous Camp 14. Shin added that he was tortured by the prison guards for trying to escape Camp 18 on two separate occasions, which contradicts his initial story of enduring brutal tortures in Camp 14 for no apparent reasons other than being a child of alleged criminals.

According to his written apology on his Facebook page, Shin may even drop his humanitarian efforts to abolish political prison camps due to this shocking revelation.

“To those who have supported me, trusted me and believed in me all this time, I am so very grateful and at the same time so very sorry,” Shin wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday. “We tell ourselves that it’s okay to not reveal every little detail, and that it might not matter if certain parts aren’t clarified. Nevertheless this particular past of mine that I so badly wanted to cover up can no longer be hidden, nor do I want it to be.”

Shin, who initially said he escaped Camp 14 by crawling over an electrocuted body of a fellow inmate over a fence, reportedly declined to further comment on how he managed to escape the prison camp after he was caught two times before, saying he is suffering “great mental stress,” according to the New York Times.

The latest confession from Shin is causing a public uproar as his persistent campaign against the North Korean regime has for years made a profound impact on the United Nations’ efforts to send the hermit country’s political leaders to an open trial at the International Criminal Court. Now, there are growing concerns on whether Shin’s coming out will halt UN’s efforts, which had been a long shot in the first place.

“Without saying he was from Camp 14, he [still] had remarkable stories to tell,” said Chung Kwang-il, a former inmate of a North Korean prison camp, according to the New York Times article. “I guess he somehow thought he needed a more dramatic story to attract attention.”

Another defector, who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity, said that even the recent confessions from Shin are unreliable. “[Shin] is still lying,” the defector said. “You just cannot escape a North Korean prison camp twice, as he said he did, and is still alive and manages to escape a third time.”

Shin came under scrutiny in recent months after a female defector who escaped from Camp 18 accused him of lying. She and other defectors alleged that Shin and his family never lived in Camp 14 and questioned him to clarify on the details of the story in “Escaping Camp 14,” written by a former Washington Post reporter.

Suddenly finding himself under immense pressure, the embattled Shin revealed that he had tried escaping from Camp 18 twice, in 1999 and 2001, but that he was sent to Camp 14 after he was caught both times. He initially said that he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother in Camp 14 as a child, but such a stunning story may no longer be trusted as it has now been revealed that he spent his childhood in Camp 18.

Nevertheless, Michael Kirby, the Australian judge who led the United Nations investigations on North Korea’s violation of human rights with its secret prison camps, remained adamant that Shin’s confession will have no effect on the validity of the findings, noting that the “commission deals with very serious abuses of human rights that go back over 70 years.”

Penguin Books, which published “Escaping Camp 14″ in 2012, told the New York Times: “We are working with the author on an accurate understanding of the facts.”

Before the recent revelation, Shin was the only known survivor to have escaped Camp 14, known as the “total control camp” from which inmates endure three generations of punishment for anti-state crimes committed by themselves or their family members.

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North Korean Airline’s Facebook Page Hacked by ISIS Supporters

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The Facebook page of North Korea’s state-run airline, Air Koryo, was hacked on Wednesday, seemingly by the same Islamic State (ISIS) group supporters that hacked the U.S. Central Command’s social media accounts earlier this week, according to Yonhap.

All of Air Koryo’s previous posts were deleted, and its Facebook timeline became flooded with images that showed support for the jihadists and mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. One photo featuring Kim crying at his father Kim Jong-il’s funeral was captioned “crying pig.”

Another post read, “North Korea, the communist thug nation, and the Chinese communist thugs will pay a price for their collaboration with the enemies of the mujahideen (Jihad).”

Air Koryo’s page banner was also changed to show the black and white ISIS flag, and its profile picture was replaced by a photo of a masked Islamist militant with the phrases “CyberCaliphate” and “I love you ISIS” in the background. Both images are same as the ones posted on the hacked Twitter and Youtube accounts of the U.S. military’s Central Command (Centcom).

The hacking group CyberCaliphate claimed on Monday that it had breached Centcom’s networks, and the group leaked private contact information of American soldiers as well as internal military documents online, forcing the military to shut down its Twitter account.

 

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 Photos courtesy of Washington Post

According to the Washington Post, military officials determined, based on its initial assessment, that no classified information was leaked from the hijack and that none of the information came from its servers. Ironically, the hack occurred during Obama’s speech on cybersecurity.

Pentagon officials acknowledged that the Centcom’s hack was embarrassing, but emphasized that there is no security threat, downplaying the impact of the cybervandalism.

“We view this as little more than a prank,” said Army Co. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, of the incident. “It’s inconvenient, it’s an annoyance but in no way is any sensitive or classified information compromised.”

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Featured photo courtesy of the Guardian.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye speaks during her New Year news conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul

President Park Offers to Meet Kim Jong-un Without Pre-Conditions

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday that she is open to holding a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without any pre-conditions, reports Reuters.

“My position is that to ease the pain of division and to accomplish peaceful unification, I am willing to meet with anyone,” Park said in her televised New Year’s Day speech.

Park’s appeal comes after Kim announced that he was open to resuming high-level talks if South Korea was sincere about improved inter-Korean relations and proper conditions were met.

“If the atmosphere and environment is there, there is no reason not to hold a high-level summit [with South Korea],” Kim said in his address broadcasted by the state media.

However, North Korea has been sending mixed signals. 

South Korea has repeatedly proposed opening dialogue with Pyongyang ever since the North Korean senior delegates made their surprise visit to the Asian Games in Incheon last year.

Despite this, the reclusive country rejected the South Korean parliament’s call on Friday for the resumption of stalled talks on various issues, including the North’s human rights and reconciliation projects. Pyongyang has also recently ignored Seoul’s call for inter-Korean negotiations.

On Saturday, North Korea offered to temporarily halt nuclear tests if the U.S. suspended its annual military drills held jointly with South Korea, but Washington immediately rejected the proposal after calling it a veiled threat.

While Park has insisted that there are no pre-conditions to holding a summit meeting with Kim, she has emphasized that North Korea should show “sincerity” in its decision to resume talks by taking steps towards denuclearization.

“North Korea should stop hesitating anymore and accept calls for dialogue,”

Inter-Korean Family Reunions

Park also stressed arranging a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in time for Lunar New Year’s Day, which falls on Feb. 19 this year.

“The issue of family reunions is one that cannot be delayed anymore, given the age of those in the separated families,” Park said, according to Yonhap.

The last inter-Korean family reunion was held in February 2014 with 83 elderly South Koreans and 88 North Koreans in attendance, according to the New York Times. About 70,000 South Koreans, more than half of them aged 80 or older, are on the government’s waiting list for the chance to reunite with their families from the North. While South Korean participants are chosen through lottery, it is unclear how the North chooses their candidates for these rarely held reunions.

The Interview and U.S. Sanctions

Park admitted on Monday that she has yet to see the controversial Seth Rogen comedy The Interview, which depicts the fictional assassination of Kim Jong-un, reports the AFP.

The FBI formally accused North Korea of hacking Sony Pictures. Since then, the U.S. has imposed sanctions that target North Korea’s top government officials and its defense industry. Pyongyang has condemned these sanctions and repeatedly denied any responsibility for the cyberattack–though it called the crime a “righteous deed.”

According to Yonhap, Park described the U.S. sanctions as “appropriate” and argued that North Korea should stop provoking the international community.

Korean American Author Deported 

During her New Year’s speech, Park also defended her government’s decision to deport Korean American author, Shin Eun-mi, who was accused of making positive comments about North Korea in several lectures and online posts.

Shin was deported back to the States on Saturday after authorities claimed that she had violated South Korea’s National Security Law, which has often been criticize for being an infringement to freedom of speech.

Park, however, defended its use on Monday, saying that the law was necessary to “ensure security” as South Korea “remains in a standoff with the North.”

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Photo courtesy of Reuters/Jung Yeon-Je/Pool. 

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Korean American Author to Be Deported for Praising North Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

A Korean American author may be deported to the U.S. for allegedly making pro-North Korea comments, reports the Associated Press.

Local conservative groups have accused Shin Eun-mi, 54, of sympathizing with Pyongyang and propagandizing the regime’s ideals alongside her co-host during a talk show tour. According to TIME, Shin reportedly said during a November lecture that many North Korean defectors living in South Korea told her that they wished to return home and that North Koreans hope for change under the new leadership of Kim Jong-un. She also praised the cleanliness of the Hermit Kingdom’s rivers and the taste of North Korean beer.

During another lecture in December, an 18-year-old high school student threw a homemade bomb at her, injuring three people.

Shin had planned to return to Los Angeles on Dec. 12, but was barred from leaving the country after she refused to appear for police questioning, according to Yonhap. Since then, the Seoul police have questioned the author and requested prosecutors to formally indict her. Prosecutors, however, called the Korean Immigration Service on Thursday to deport Shin for violating South Korea’s National Security Law. Once deported, she will be banned from entering South Korea for five years.

Shin told reporters on Wednesday that she had no intention of praising the North Korean government and denied breaching the anti-Pyonyang security law. She also said her memoir, Korean-American Ajumma Goes to North Korea, is purely a travelogue and does not include any pro-North remarks.

While conservative groups have supported the prosecutors’ decision to deport Shin, others have criticized the country’s security law and called it an infringement to the freedom of speech.

“The decision to deport her is a clear violation of human rights,” the Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial on Friday. “The government is taking the lead in trampling on human rights.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors are also considering seeking an arrest warrant for Shin’s talk show co-host, Hwang Sun, for the same charges. According to the Korea Herald, Hwang is the former deputy spokeswoman of the now-defunct Democratic Labor Party and is famous for giving birth to her second child in Pyongyang back in 2005.

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Featured photo courtesy of Yonhap

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Netflix Says It Wants to Stream ‘The Interview’

by DAVID BAUDER, AP Television writer

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Netflix wants to make Sony’s The Interview available to its 53 million worldwide subscribers, the streaming service’s chief content officer said Wednesday.

Ted Sarandos of Netflix would not comment on efforts to make that possible, however. The movie starring Seth Rogen and James Franco is available on some other video services and in some independent theaters, after its wide release was canceled due to the Sony hacking scandal.

“People want to see the movie and we want to be able to deliver the movie,” Sarandos told reporters at the Winter TV Press Tour 2015 conference.

Sony declined to comment on the possibility of a Netflix airing, a spokesman said.

Rogen and Franco play journalists involved in a CIA plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Before the movie could be released, the Sony studio’s computer system was hacked by unknown assailants linked to North Korea, leading the studio to ditch plans to release the movie widely on Christmas day.

Even without Netflix, Sony Pictures Entertainment said this week that The Interview has been rented or purchased online more than 4.3 million times, totaling over $31 million in consumer sales. Sony says that has made it the company’s top online film ever; it has made $5 million in theater box offices.

The Interview has been available through Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and various video-on-demand services.

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Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Did North Korea Hack Sony? The Jury’s Still Out

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee
suevon@iamkoream.com

Long after The Interview opened in some 300 independent theaters on Christmas Day and was made available to stream online following an unprecedented chain of events that saw the comedy nearly canceled, a question still dogs those following the Sony hack that started it all: who or what was responsible?

We thought we had an answer when the FBI on Dec. 19 said North Korea’s government was to blame for a massive cyber attack on Sony Entertainment Pictures that exposed a trove of sensitive data and embarrassing emails between studio executives before escalating into threats that terrorized major theater chains into pulling the film.

In the days and weeks following that announcement, however, some cybersecurity analysts and North Korea experts have expressed doubts about the FBI’s assertion, citing the circumstantial evidence against North Korea offered thus far by the U.S. government. (North Korea, meanwhile, vehemently denies involvement in the hack. Its excoriation of the film’s premise—a fictional assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—fueled speculation it was behind the cyberhack and provides a swift revenge motive.)

“It’s hard to take at face value when the U.S. government says, ‘Trust us,’ because we’ve done it before…WMD in Iraq, right,” University of Southern California international relations and business professor David Kang told Southern California Public Radio KPCC’s Take Two on Monday. “If it turns out it was North Korea, then the government will be vindicated. If it’s not, I think it will just be further evidence of how difficult it is to attribute something as murky as espionage—cyberespionage—where it’s really, as I understand it, more of an art than a science to be able to pinpoint who actually caused the hack.”

So, in efforts to better understand why the U.S. government believes North Korea is the group behind the Sony hack that calls itself “Guardians of Peace,” while cybersecurity experts say, ‘Not so fast,’ let’s take a closer look at the arguments for and against in this, yes, murky debate.

Why the U.S. is Blaming North Korea

 

The FBI Says They’re Responsible

In its Dec. 19 statement, the FBI mentioned three distinct reasons for pinning the hack on the North Korean regime:

* The “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks” to other malware the FBI says “North Korean actors previously developed.”

* The discovery of an overlap of several Internet protocol (IP) addresses the FBI says are associated with “known North Korean infrastructure” with those IP addresses found in the malware used in the Sony hack.

* Similarities of the tools used in the hack to a cyberattack in March 2013 against South Korean banks and media outlets by a group known as “DarkSeoul.”

In this detailed behind-the-scenes synopsis of the Sony hack, moreover, the New York Times cites anonymous Sony senior executives familiar with the course of the FBI investigation. These executives claim that even initially, federal investigators “did not strongly suspect an inside job” but found that the hackers “used digital techniques to steal the credentials and passwords from a systems administrator who had maximum access to Sony’s computer systems” in a style similar to that waged in the 2013 South Korean cyberattack by Dark Seoul.

Government Access to Classified Evidence

On Dec. 30, in the face of growing insistence among some experts the administration was too quick to point a finger at North Korea, the FBI issued a follow-up statement, saying its findings are “based on intelligence from the FBI, the U.S. intelligence community, DHS, foreign partners and the private sector.”

The NYT noted that senior administration officials say it is rare for President Obama to “blame a specific country so directly,” as the news outlet put it—in other words, the president wouldn’t pointedly assign blame in a cybersecurity matter unless he was certain. “But they [the officials] continue to insist that they cannot explain the basis of the president’s declaration without revealing some of the most sensitive sources and technologies at their disposal.”

U.S. officials are not backing down from rhetoric condemning the North Koreans. On Wednesday morning, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told an audience at Fordham Law School, “Cyber is a powerful new realm for them, where they believe they can exert maximum influence at minimum cost, and this recent episode with Sony has shown they can get recognition for their cybercapabilities, and that is why we have to push back.”

At Least One Major Security Firm Believes the FBI is Correct

Computer security and cybercrime blog KrebsonSecurity.com reports that the co- founder of CrowdStrike, described as “a security firm that focuses heavily on identifying attribution and actors behind major cybercrime attacks,” stands behind the FBI on this one.

“We have a high-confidence that this is a North Korean operator based on the profiles seen dating back to 2006, including prior espionage against the South Korean and U.S. government and military institutions,” CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch told KrebsonSecurity.com. Alperovitch added, “We haven’t seen the skeptics produce any evidence that it wasn’t North Korea, because there is pretty good technical attribution here.”

Deterrence and Vested Interests

At the Atlantic, contributor Bruce Schneier cites an argument from the diplomatic perspective: be that it may the U.S. appears “overconfident” in blaming the Sony hack on North Korea, “the long-term U.S. interest is to discourage other nations from engaging in similar behavior.”

“If the North Korean government continues denying its involvement no matter what the truth is,” Schneier writes in summarizing this view, “and the real attackers have gone underground, then the U.S. decision to claim omnipotent powers of attribution serves as a warning to others that they will get caught if they try something like this.”

The article also raises the point that Sony has a vested interest in the hack being characterized as a state-sponsored act to help mitigate damage from the number of lawsuits brought against the corporation by employees who claim Sony failed to adequately prepare itself against theft of vulnerable, sensitive employee data.

Why Some Feel North Korea Is Not Necessarily Behind the Sony Hack (or Acted Alone)

 

The Timeline Doesn’t Compute with a Film Revenge Motive

Wired was one of the first news outlets to point out that the hackers’ first public statement on Nov. 21 made no mention of North Korea or The Interview—and that it was only after the media began drawing a connection between the film and North Korea around Dec. 8 that the hackers began denouncing the movie in statements and issuing threats against theater chains. The first public statement, Wired’s Kim Zetter noted, “appears to be an attempt at extortion, not an expression of public outrage or a threat of war.”

The Hacking Style is Not Demonstrative of a Nation-State Attack

In that same piece, Wired pointed out that certain stylistic elements used by the hackers, including the image of a glowing skeleton posted to computers, and the “catchy nom-de-hack like Guardians of Peace to identify themselves” don’t typically characterize a “nation-state attack.” Instead, the tech magazine argued, “these are all hallmarks of hacktivists—groups like Anonymous and LulzSec, who thrive on targeting large corporations for ideological reasons or just the lulz, or by hackers sympathetic to a political cause.”

Linguistic Analysis

The Sony hackers apparently used computers programmed to a Korean language setting, but as plenty of analysts have pointed out, any computer can be configured to another language. Cybersecurity consultants at Taia Global, upon analyzing the hackers’ online messages, “concluded that based on translation errors and phrasing, the attackers are more likely to be Russian speakers than Korean speakers,” reported the NYT. The Taia analysts identified 20 non-standard phrases from the hackers’ messages and concluded that 15 were literal Russian translations, while nine were Korean.

An Inside Job?

Last week, the cyberthreat intelligence firm Norse Corporation expressed its own conclusion that the Sony hack was perpetrated by a small group of individuals, including a Sony ex-employee who had the “technical background and system knowledge to carry out the attack.”

The Verge also reported in late November, when news of the Sony hack was first publicized, that it received an email from a purported hacker, stating, “We want equality. Sony doesn’t. It’s an upward battle.”

The FBI Has Been Wrong Before—Or Had Inconclusive Findings

According to Vice Media, in early 1998, the FBI blamed Iraq for network interference on U.S. government computer networks when further investigation revealed it was actually the work of Israeli and California teens.

In addition, although the U.S. blamed Iran for the 2012 cyberattack on computers in Saudi Arabia known as Shamoon, it was attributed to a group known as “Cutting Sword of Justice.”

Furthermore, experts point out that while the FBI has stated there is common malware between the Sony hack and that used by the group “DarkSeoul” from the 2013 South Korean cyberhack, no definitive connection was ever made between “DarkSeoul” and North Korea. “The major problem with the evidence offered by the FBI is that it is self-referential, all of it pointing back to the 2013 attack on South Korean banks and media that was carried out by the DarkSeoul gang,” writes Gregory Elich at Global Research. “At that time, without supplying any supporting evidence, the United States accused North Korea of being behind DarkSeoul.”

So what are we to conclude from all this?

 

As the Atlantic’s Bruce Schneier argues in a piece posted to the magazine’s website Monday, there are the FBI’s assertions on one hand, and then there is all the countervailing evidence—or at least arguments rebutting or challenging the FBI’s conclusion—on the other. As his headline succinctly states, “We still don’t know who hacked Sony.”