North Korea’s cyber attack on Sony has generated debate as to whether it was an “act of war” or “cyber-vandalism.” The answer lies in between the two extremes – the cyber attack was an act of international terrorism intended to coerce or intimidate the population.
As such, the United States should return North Korea to the state sponsors of terrorism list. Pyongyang had been on the list until the Bush administration removed it in 2008 in a failed attempt to stimulate progress in the Six Party Talks nuclear negotiations.
North Korea has conducted several previous cyber attacks against U.S. and South Korean government agencies, as well as South Korean banks, businesses and media organizations. None of the attacks, however, were accompanied by threats of physical destruction as with the attack on Sony.
Since its removal from the terrorist list, North Korea has provided support for other acts of international terrorism.
- In April 2012, North Korean agent An Hak-young was sentenced to four years imprisonment by a South Korean court for plotting to assassinate outspoken anti-Pyongyang activist Park Sang-hak with a poison-tipped needle.
- In June 2012, Seoul Metropolitan Police arrested a South Korean man for violating the National Security Law. The man had met in China with North Korean agents of the General Reconnaissance Bureau to purchase software with malignant viruses which were used to conduct a cyber-attack on Incheon International Airport.
- In May 2012, North Korea jammed GPS signals affecting hundreds of civilian airliners flying in and out of South Korea. The Korea Communications Commission stated the signals came from North Korea.
- In July 2010, two agents of the North Korean ruling party’s General Reconnaissance Bureau were arrested and pled guilty before a South Korean court to attempting to assassinate high-level defector Hwang Jang-Yop who was residing in South Korea. Kim Myung-ho and Do Myung-kwan were sentenced to 10 years in jail.
- In December 2009, Thai authorities seized 35 tons of North Korean weapons, including rockets and rocket-propelled grenades that were determined to be enroute to terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
- In 2009, three shipments of North Korean conventional arms bound for Iran were seized. Western and Israeli intelligence officials believe the shipments were bound for Hamas and Hezbollah.
- In October 2008, a North Korea woman was convicted by a South Korean court for plotting to kill South Korean intelligence agents with poisoned needles.
North Korea’s cyber attack on Sony was a surprise to many, including in the media, who had been unaware of the regime’s extensive cyber-warfare capabilities and previous cyber attacks on U.S. and South Korean targets.
Pyongyang’s actions since 2008 also clearly show that North Korea remains committed to terrorist acts. It’s time for the U.S. to acknowledge that reality.