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Paul Jay interviews Col. Larry Wilkerson, who says Sony might be able to protect itself from class action suits brought by employees over privacy if the blame is pinned on North Korea

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

On Monday, the North Korean internet went down, apparently completely. Of course there’s a lot of speculation this is retribution or such from the United States, but it’s not clear if it’s that or hackers, or even whether the North Koreans took it down themselves for some kind of maintenance.

And there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t very clear about just who is responsible for the hack of Sony as well. A lot of technology magazines are rather dubious at President Obama’s accusations that it was the North Koreans that that it. Wired magazine, which is pretty well known for covering technology, says that it’s akin to saying Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction to say the North Koreans had the capability to pull something like this off. Other technologists are being quoted as saying that it’s not possible to pin this on North Korea, the fact that there’s some code generated that has some kind of North Korean finger footprints on could easily be replicated by someone else and had–similar things have happened in the past with American code that was picked up by the Russians and used for such purposes. So if in fact, as quoted in the article by one of the leading security experts on all of this, none of the evidence presented by the FBI would hold up in court, why such aggressive powerful statements from the president seeking retribution had a time and place we choose, why heating all this up and why pinning it on North Korea apparently prematurely?

So now joining us to talk about all of this in the studio is Larry Wilkerson.

Thanks for joining us, Larry.


JAY: And as everybody knows, Larry is a regular on The Real News and was Colin Powell’s chief of staff for many years and now teach at William & Mary College. Right?


JAY: So I know you’re still kind of thinking through this, ’cause it’s not obvious, but why do you think President Obama is so out front on this when the evidence seems so flimsy?

WILKERSON: I’m confused about it myself. I think the media have made a mountain out of a mole hill. I’m not discounting the fact that Sony may be suffering majorly in the long-term from this, monetarily and otherwise, but that’s certainly no reason to contemplate the kind of action that I’ve heard people talking about with regard to U.S.-North Korean relations. And there are probably some reasons here, too, that I can speculate about. Sony let a lot of stuff get out, a lot of stuff other than this film that everyone’s talking about, and I suspect Sony would be subject to some law suits.

JAY: Yeah, there are apparently some class-action suits already beginning from Sony employees who are saying that Sony didn’t take enough precautions.

WILKERSON: Right. So how does Sony get out of that, almost with a wave of the magic wand have the president declare that it was a state that did it to them, and then the lawsuits probably lose effect?

JAY: Yeah, it’d be pretty hard to win a class-action lawsuit of it’s considered a national security or a state terrorist attack, ’cause then Sony could say, well, no precautions could defeat a state.

But what about the heating up once again of this sort of rhetoric? And is there another agenda with North Korea here? Or is this mostly a PR exercise by the president?

WILKERSON: I certainly hope there’s not another agenda, but I smell one, because in the summer of 2001, as the Bush administration was laboring over who in the axis of evil it was going to take on, Korea was first and foremost in many people’s eyes. Once they were sobered up by the military and others, including yours truly, about what it would mean to have a war on the peninsula–100,000 casualties minimum; the almost total destruction of Seoul, the beautiful capital city of South Korea; at least 70-80,000 noncombatants, mostly Americans, who would have to be evacuated, probably the most complex, difficult noncombatant evacuation there would be in any scenario in the world, they sobered up quickly. They didn’t want anything to do with that. And, of course, we know where they turned. They turned to the low-hanging fruit of Iraq.

JAY: I mean, the timing is interesting. You have this opening up, as they’re calling it, with Cuba, and, of course, the neocons are all saying, oh, Obama’s soft on communism and Obama’s doing this and that in terms of Cuba. So maybe he needs a really aggressive posture on North Korea just to kind of partly cover his flank on Cuba. But maybe he wants more than just some posturing.

WILKERSON: I think you’re attributing–and this is going to sound like I’m really down on the Obama administration, and I hate to be so with his great opening to Cuba (which I’ve been working for for years) accomplished, but I think you’re attributing too much competence to the Obama foreign policy team. They don’t seem to be all that competent. I think they’re reacting. And in this case I think they overreacted.

JAY: And why does the United States care what goes on in North Korea? I mean, how does it have any significant importance to U.S. policy?

WILKERSON: I think the only reason we care that seems to matter to people from time to time is a humanitarian reason. And that’s a genuine reason. There are a lot of people in North Korea who were treated quite badly, if not as badly as any other people in the world, we saw that during the famines, for example, earlier, where hundreds of thousands of them died.

I think the security reason has to do with South Korea, of course, South Korea’s position opposite the Demilitarized Zone and the fact that the North has deployed major artillery forces and other forces next to the DMZ and could in effect start a war that they would ultimately, I think, lose, and most military people do think they would lose ultimately, but in the process they would destroy the capital city, which is just kilometers away from those artillery pieces, and do major damage to South Korea, one of the most successful countries in the world today, a country that in a generation has gone from being a debtor nation to being a creditor nation, which is unheard of in history. I mean, incredible what South Korea’s done. So to see all that put in jeopardy or majorly set back by attack from the North is a horrible thing to contemplate for South Koreans and for their patron state.

JAY: Well, then, it makes even less sense to raise the level of–to inflame the rhetoric.

WILKERSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you’ve got the bigger strategic picture, too, of China, Japan, and Korea and the balance of power there. This would do nothing for that except negative.

JAY: Well, it’s good for Sony.

WILKERSON: Yeah, great for Sony, I guess.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us.


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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.