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The US Government Asked Sony to Help Counter ISIS Propaganda

Sony CEOs may have worked with the government to promote US interests overseas, emails reveal.
April 16, 2015, 8:17pm
​Image: Flickr/​Wikipedia

​Today, WikiLeaks published a new searchable archive containing the leaked email inboxes of top Sony executives. Disturbingly, it shows that months after the hack, we've still only just begun investigating the close ties between Sony and the US government.

"This archive shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation," WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange said in a statement. "It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geopolitical conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there."

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A search through the WikiLeaks Sony archive for "state.gov" email addresses—WikiLeaks reports that there are nearly 100 government email addresses in the archive—reveals an exceedingly cozy relationship between Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton and US government officials including the State Department, various international ambassadors, and the president.

An email apparently from Richard Stengel, US State Department under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, reveals that the government was interested in using Sony and other large media conglomerates to help counter propaganda messages from the Islamic State:

"Michael: It was great to see you yesterday. As you could see, we have plenty of challenges in countering ISIL narratives in the Middle East and Russian narratives in central and eastern Europe. In both cases, there are millions and millions of people in those regions who are getting a skewed version of reality. And it's not something that the State Department can do on its own ny [sic] any means. Following up on our conversation, I'd love to convene a group of media executives who can help us think about better ways to respond to both of these large challenges. This is a conversation about ideas, about content and production, about commercial possibilities. I promise you it will be interesting, fun, and rewarding. Best, Rick"

In response, Lynton sent a list of names including Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, former Turner Broadcasting CEO Phil Kent, 21st Century Fox COO James Murdoch, and Drew Guff, a founding partner of private equity investment firm Siguler Guff.

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The emails suggest that wasn't the only time the US government tapped Sony to help promote viewpoints friendly to the US. In another email, a staffer writing on behalf of Jane Hartley, the US's ambassador to France, asks Lynton to help promote the US's "agenda" overseas using Sony talent.

"We have already started to think through ways your superstars could potentially help amplify some of the great work US Embassy Paris is doing," the staffer wrote. "We'd love to include Sony names in events here, either as guests or performers, and would love the opportunity to leverage their popularity to promote the President's priorities and agenda overseas."

But ambassadors and State Department officials aren't the only public servants that Lynton was close with. In one instance, Lynton had a dinner engagement with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, according to an email titled "Personal: Dinner" apparently sent by Kristen Jarvis, Michelle Obama's former chief of staff.

"The President and First lady are delighted that you will be joining them for dinner tomorrow evening," Jarvis wrote. "Cocktails are at 630pm and dinner will be served at 730pm. Please let me know if you have any food allergies, etc, so I can alert the chefs."

This friendly invitation is a far cry from the barbs Lynton and President Obama exchanged in the wake of the hack, when Sony briefly cancelled the theatrical release of The Interview—the film that was the apparent source of the hackers' ire—after facing threats of a terrorist attack. Obama chided Sony for giving in to the demands, and Lynton said he was disappointed by Obama's remarks.

These are just a few of the examples of close ties between Sony and the government in the Sony emails that have yet to be discovered and reported. Surely, there are many more. While the first wave of Sony email reporting focused on personal meltdowns, film plans, and celebrity gossip, it appears as though the worst—and most shocking—revelations may be yet to come.