It’s remarkable how broad the consensus is condemning the decision of Sony to cancel distribution of The Interview. Even in a time when seemingly no one can agree on anything, everyone is in agreement that Sony sucks.
It seems like ancient history now, but there was once a time back in 2001 when George W. Bush was criticized by his ideological opponents for more or less suggesting that the way to not let the terrorists win was to go out and be a consumer.
No such divisiveness exists now. Everyone is upset that they can’t express their patriotism by paying money to watch a movie.
It’s your civic duty to watch The Interview: http://t.co/nlzeAvJmVX
— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) December 17, 2014
At least those CIA interrogation officers bothered to get off their butts, even if it was only to stick a tube up someone else’s. Watching a movie is more our speed.
No one owes you a movie though, especially not one you probably weren’t going to see in the first place. Asking an American subsidiary of a Japanese company to show it’s commitment to American values is obnoxious. Asking that company to absorb all the risk associated with the action is equally naïve. Cybersecurity guy Peter Singer is representatively dismissive of these concerns:
This same group threatened yesterday 9/11-style incidents at any movie theatre that chose to show the movie. Here, we need to distinguish between threat and capability—the ability to steal gossipy emails from a not-so-great protected computer network is not the same thing as being able to carry out physical, 9/11-style attacks in 18,000 locations simultaneously. I can’t believe I’m saying this. I can’t believe I have to say this. This group has not shown the capability to do that.
This is embarrassing for Singer because he is mistaking other people for being “in the realm of beyond stupid” when he is in fact the one who is woefully naive.
I can’t believe I have to say this to a guy who wrote a book about cyberwar and cyberterrorism, but an attack against the movie doesn’t have to occur in 18,000 locations simultaneously to cause considerable damage. In fact, if you check the Wikipedia page about 9/11, you will find only a few of the perhaps 18,000-ish planes flying around the US that day were attacked. All you really need is one, and you don’t have to tell anyone in advance which one you will target.
Regarding the group’s lack of a demonstrated capability to attack a movie theatre, I make two observations.
- A movie theater isn’t exactly hard to get into. At most, you need to come up with $25 for a ticket if you live in a particularly annoying city.
- Any security presence movie theaters have is geared toward preventing movie hopping and food smuggling. And scheduling, and the poor quality of the average movie are probably bigger deterrents to movie hopping than effective security.
Obama’s comments cleverly side-step these issues.
Sony’s retreat, he suggested, was as silly as a football fan who wouldn’t go to an NFL game because of the vague, post-9/11 threat of a terrorist attack on a stadium. Or, he mused, what if the organizers of the Boston Marathon had cancelled this year’s race after last year’s bombing?
These are willfully misleading analogies. NFL games and marathons are government sponsored and government protected. They use a panoply of government resources, none of which are made available to movie theaters.
Even without a demonstrated ability, I would trust that the average reader here could figure out how to attack a movie theater and cause considerable damage including deaths without assistance, assuming they didn’t care about getting caught. A target that is sufficiently vulnerable shouldn’t wait to be threatened by an organization with a demonstrated capability to carry out large-scale attacks if all that is required to make international news is for a random guy with a rental car to mow over people waiting in line.
It’s justifiable to doubt the ability of someone to successfully rob a bank and evade capture. You might need a skill or two for that. A threat to create unspecified violence, however, is credible regardless of the source because violence is comparatively easy even for unskilled first-timers to inflict.
Additionally, if we do believe North Korea is behind the attacks as everyone seems to accept, it’s worth remembering what their demonstrated capabilities in fact are:
North Korea yesterday stirred up a strategic weapons storm in the Pacific by launching a new, long-range ballistic missile which overflew Japan before splashing down in the ocean. Pyongyang’s cry for world attention shattered the limits of Western tolerance when it emerged that the Daepodong-1 rocket passed without permission through Japanese airspace.
In extended Japanese television news broadcasts, commentators claimed the new missile was capable of carrying a 1,000kg nuclear, chemical or conventional warhead.
Also note that the yields on North Korea’s nuclear tests seem to be following some modified version of Moore’s Law.
Perhaps the threats against the movie’s opening were overblown, but if anything were to happen, the decision would be laid solely at the feet of Sony and the theaters showing the movie. The commentators mocking Sony now would go on to write articles about how releasing a movie while there were outstanding threats was an obvious failure mode.
I don’t pretend to know what the right decision here is (though I favor immediate online release). I don’t think it’s fair, however, to accuse a company of cowardice minutes after it has been stripped digitally naked before the world. Not everyone can afford to double down each time it is threatened. Sometimes being intimidated and fearful is a rational response.