North Korean push for joint investigation with US seen by analysts as an attempt to buy time.
US President Barack Obama has become embroiled in a dispute with the makers of the comedy The Interview over how much the White House knew about North Korea's threats against the film.
It is the latest fallout from the cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has turned what was supposed to be a routine Hollywood satire into a full-blown geopolitical incident.
Obama said Sony had been wrong to pull the film from cinemas, saying: "I wish they would have spoken to me first".
However, his comments have been directly contradicted by Michael Lynton, the studio's chief executive, who said he had been working with government officials for weeks and had recently contacted one of Obama's advisers. "A few days ago I personally did reach out and speak to senior folks in the White House and talked to them about this situation, and actually informed them that we needed help."
It is the latest twist in an extraordinary saga that mixes showbusiness gossip with elite cyber hackers and a nuclear-armed rogue state. The film features Seth Rogen and James Franco as a pair of hapless TV journalists whom the CIA tries to recruit as assassins.
Until the FBI publicly pointed the finger at Pyongyang on Saturday, many cyber security experts were sceptical that North Korea could have been behind such a sophisticated attack. They were convinced it had been an inside job, pointing out that early emails from the hackers made no mention of the controversial film. The Daily Beast reported that former Lulzsec hacking group member Sabu said the North Koreans "don't have the technical capabilities". Anonymous wrote "we all know the hacks didn't come from North Korea".
North Korea has denied any involvement, and yesterday even demanded to participate in an inquiry into the affair.
"We propose to conduct a joint investigation with the US in response to groundless slander being perpetrated by the US by mobilising public opinion," said a spokesman quoted by the official KCNA news agency. "If the US refuses to accept our proposal for a joint investigation and continues to talk about some kind of response by dragging us into the case, it must remember there will be grave consequences."
The offer was dismissed by observers as a classic Pyongyang effort to buy time. Koh Yu Hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, said: "They are now talking about a joint investigation because they think there is no conclusive evidence. But the US won't accede to a joint investigation for the crime."
North Korea has a history of using cyber warfare as a way of evening up the odds against its more technologically advanced opponents, such as the US or South Korea. It has as many as 3000 people dedicated to hacking, according to a recent report by Hewlett Packard.
For now, Sony insists that Obama was wrong to say it had bowed to pressure. It said it had no choice but to abandon its plan for a Christmas opening after cinema chains refused to show it.
"After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform," it said. "It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so." That might mean an online release.
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