​White House announces sanctions against N. Korea

Reuters / Jonathan Ernst
US President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Friday authorizing the imposition of new sanctions against certain North Korean entities in the wake of the recent Sony hack the White House continues to blame on Pyongyang.

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The US Department of the Treasury said Friday that Pres. Obama has authorized sanctions against three businesses and 10 individuals, “driven by our commitment to hold North Korea accountable for its destructive and destabilizing conduct,” namely the recent attack waged against Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer network and the subsequent threats that followed.

“Even as the FBI continues its investigation into the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend US businesses and citizens, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States,” Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew said in a statement released on Friday afternoon, January 2, announcing the sanctions.

“The actions taken today under the authority of the president’s new Executive Order will further isolate key North Korean entities and disrupt the activities of close to a dozen critical North Korean operatives. We will continue to use this broad and powerful tool to expose the activities of North Korean government officials and entities."

Reuters / Rick Wilking

Friday’s announcement concerns three businesses the White House regards as “being controlled entities of the Government of North Korea,” as well as ten officials of the North Korean government, including three employees of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, or KOMID — “North Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons,” according to the White House.

KOMID is listed as among the three businesses sanctioned under this week’s order, alongside the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a government intelligence organization, and Korea Tangun Trading Corporation, described by the Treasury as being “primarily responsible for the procurement of commodities and technologies to support North Korea's defense research and development programs.”

Per the Treasury's orders, the sanctions prohibit the targeted persons and companies from engaging in transactions with Americans or accessing the US financial system.

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The sanctions mark the latest action taken by Washington against Pyongyang after the FBI and White House concluded last month that the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was responsible for the massive computer intrusion suffered on the networks of Sony Pictures Entertainment in late November. Terabytes of stolen data have since made its way to the web, embarrassing the Hollywood firm, and online threats concerning the scheduled Christmas Eve release of “The Interview,” an anti-Kim comedy, that ultimately failed to keep the film from being screened.

Screenshot from youtube.com

After Sony first pulled the plug on plans to release “The Interview” on Dec. 24 as scheduled, Pres. Obama said during a White House press conference last month, "I wish they would’ve spoken with me first. I would have told them: do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.” Sony later decided to make the film available online and screen it at select cinemas, earning the flick more than $15 million in its opening weekend.

Obama hinted at possible cyber retaliation at the time, saying, "We will respond proportionally and we will respond in a place and time and manner that we chose.” A major online black out across North Korea, but the US has not taken responsibility. Similarly, North Korea has yet to officially accept responsibility for the massive Sony hack, and security experts have said in recent days that publically available evidence has yet to definitely blame the Kim regime on the breach.

"'We take seriously North Korea's attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a US company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression," the White House said Friday, according to NBC News. According to Reuters, however, senior administration officials said the announcing of new sanctions was not directly linked to the Sony hack, and that the three non-person entities had previously been targeted by the US Treasury over nuclear energy development and suspected weapons proliferation.