The controversial low-brow Hollywood comedy, 'The Interview', portrays the story of two US talk-show journalists on assignment to interview Kim Jong-un – and midway down the road are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to poison the North Korean leader.
The plot, which has enraged North Korea who was accused of retaliating by hacking into the computers of Sony Pictures distributing the movie, is patently fictitious and involves a ricin-laced strip meant to poison Kim while shaking hands with the journalists.
The plan to kill the North Korean leader harkens back to the days in the late 1960s and 1970s when scores of attempts were made by US intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The hilarious plots included an attempt to smuggle poisoned cigars into Castro's household and also plant soluble thallium sulphate inside Castro's shoes so that his beard will fall off and make him "the laughing stock of the socialist world."
Some of the unsuccessful attempts were detailed in a 1975 report by an investigative body appointed by the US Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, which are likely to be the subject of renewed discussion particularly in the context of last month's announcement of the resumption of full diplomatic relations between the two sworn enemies: the US and Cuba.
Michael Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, told IPS, "Sadly, the movie was not a comedy [the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un] could ignore."
The CIA has a long history of often successful plots to assassinate leaders, he pointed out.
Numerous plots were exposed in the 1975 US Senate Church Committee report, including attempts against Castro, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, and others, said Ratner.
The ban on such assassination since those revelations is meaningless; the US now calls it targeted killing, he added.
"Think about Colonel Qaddafi [of Libya] and others killed by drones or Joint Special Operations Command."
Seen in this context, said Ratner, a North Korean reaction would be expected – even though there has not been substantiated evidence that it was behind the Sony hack.
"Think about this way: it's fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the US has demonised. But let another country make such a comedy about our president, and I assure you, it will pay dearly," he said.
Dr. James E. Jennings, president at Conscience International and executive director at US Academics for Peace, said new information from cyber security firms calls into question the doctrinaire assertion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was behind the Sony hack attack.
"The FBI's rush to judgment – from which the agency may be forced to retreat – has raised protests from internet security experts and suspicions by conspiracy theorists of US involvement in a bizarre plot to further isolate the Korean regime."
They point out, said Dr. Jennings, that stranger things have happened before.
It would not be the first time that the CIA has used dirty tricks to cripple a foreign regime or try to assassinate a foreign leader.
He said folks are entitled to be sceptical about FBI claims and to raise questions about possible CIA involvement.
The CIA's own Inspector General as well as the 1975-76 Church Committee reported that a large number of crazy tricks were attempted in trying to get rid of Castro, including poisoned cigars and exploding seashells.
"One wonders what the top CIA officers were drinking when they came up with such silly notions," said Jennings. "And we all know about Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition and the black sites."
"If it does turn out that the CIA is implicated in any way in this newest Sony vs. North Korea farce, as some are alleging, it's high time for a new congressional investigation like that of the Church Committee to whack the agency hard and send some of its current leaders back to the basement of horrors where they belong," said Dr. Jennings.
Kitty Stapp – IPS
Lehtukuva / AFP PHO TO / DEVRA BERKOWITZ