U.S. officials now believe that North Korea was behind the massive Nov. 24 hacking attack on Sony Entertainment, which has derailed the release of the upcoming film "The Interview" and left the movie studio reeling from the release of private emails, personal data and other delicate information, according to NBC News' Pete Williams.
Officials said the attack originated outside of North Korea, but that the individuals responsible are believed to be acting on orders from the North Koreans. "We have found linkage to the North Korean government," a government source said.
"Today the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie."'
A shadowy group calling themselves "The Guardians of Peace" had previously claimed responsibility for the attack on Sony, citing the planned Christmas Day release of "The Interview" as their motivation. The comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco depicts an attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Recently the Guardians of Peace began threatening violent attacks on theaters planning to screen the movie. The five biggest theater chains in the U.S. decided to postpone the film, citing security concerns, on Wednesday. Eventually Sony announced that they were going to shelve the film because of the brewing controversy.
“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers,” Sony said in a statement to NBC News.
Prior to the theater chains’ decision to postpone screening the film, Sony had already decided to scrap its high-profile New York City premiere. “Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like,” Sony said in a statement to NBC News. “We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”
Sony has also reportedly shelved a planned film starring actor Steve Carrell which was going to be set in North Korea. According to Deadline.com, the "paranoid thriller" was to be directed by Gore Verbinski and begin production in March 2015.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who was one of many celebrities whose private email conversations were exposed by the Sony hacking, condemned Sony's decision to pull "The Interview" in a statement Wednesday. "Today the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie," Sorkin said. "The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public--a story that was developing right in front of their eyes."
"My deepest sympathies go out to Sony Pictures, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and everyone who worked on 'The Interview'," he added.
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in on Sony's decision on social media, tweeting: "@SonyPictures don’t cave, fight: release @TheInterview free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight #Ebola."
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are both currently investigating the threats made against Sony employees and theaters screening “The Interview.”
“DHS is aware of a threat made online targeting movie theaters in the United States,” U.S. Homeland Security said in a statement. “We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States. As always, DHS will continue to adjust our security posture, as appropriate, to protect the American people.”