Huntsman: No 'Digital Pearl Harbor' Yet, But Intellectual Property Theft a Big Threat

Jon Huntsman, former Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Ambassador to China, said Sony Pictures should not have canceled the planned Dec. 25 release of The Interview (it later reversed course and decided on a limited Christmas Day release), starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Bob Scheiffer, host of Face the Nation on CBS, asked Huntsman if it bothered him that the studio pulled the theatrical release of the film and canceled the New York premiere, saying it seems almost like the U.S. lost the cyber war.

“I’m just stunned that the two headlines this week are Cuba and North Korea,” Huntsman said to laugher at a Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion on China. “Let the studios make movies. They’re better at making movies than responding to crises. I wish they would have carried on. I think that would have been the better thing to do.”

Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, said the North Koreans are “very good” at making threats.

“They’re very explicit in terms of how they articulate their threats and to take them seriously – you always have to take them seriously – but there’s a certain pattern to their pronouncements and I think just carrying on and showing the movie and doing what we as Americans do typically would have been the right thing to do,” he said.

A North Korean government official denied involvement in the attack but called the U.S the chieftain of aggression and the worst abuser of human rights.

“We already called upon the world to turn out in the just struggle to put an end to U.S. imperialism, the chieftain of aggression and the worst human rights abuser that tramples down the universal rights of people to peaceful and stable life and violates the sovereignty of other countries, as well as its followers,” the spokesperson said. “The hacking into the SONY Pictures might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK in response to its appeal.”

The FBI concluded last Friday that the North Korean government was behind the attack on Sony.

During the discussion at CSIS, Huntsman described the U.S.-China relationship as “OK.” He said the theft of intellectual property is the worst threat the U.S. faces from China.

Chinese hackers have reportedly breached the U.S. weather systems and surveillance network as well as USPS computer systems.

“I think the real damage is on less the cyber attacks that we’ve seen – because again we haven’t had a digital Pearl Harbor, so to speak – but we certainly have seen a lot of intellectual property ripped off, so to my mind that depletes the whole notion of a creative entrepreneurial society,” he said. “Why develop something and expend resources if it’s going to be ripped off and if your best ideas are going to be hacked and stolen? And this in my mind is the biggest of all these problems. It’s the theft of intellectual property.”

Huntsman said there is currently no real punishment for hackers overseas who steal intellectual property inside the U.S.

“It steals jobs and it steals GDP and that’s the very heart and soul of our creative society. I think that’s the biggest risk right now that we run,” he said.