The FBI is contacting slightly more than 200 theatres which plan to screen ‘The Interview’ on Thursday, warning of potential threats.
The FBI on Wednesday night sent out a roster of those theatres to cyber task forces in FBI field offices. FBI agents will call or visit those theatres to inform them of possible threats they could face by screening the movie.
Officials are most concerned that those theatres could be targets of hacking.
Sony Pictures is making the controversial comedy ‘The Interview’ available at a limited number of US theatres starting on Christmas Day.
The release plan comes almost a week after Sony originally cancelled the Christmas release of ‘The Interview’, which depicts a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in up to 3,000 theatres, fearing threats of retaliation from Pyongyang.
Backlash to the decision was fierce, including from President Obama, who said the movie studio had made a mistake.
But on Tuesday, a White House spokesman said “the president applauds Sony’s decision to authorise screenings of the film”.
“As the president made clear, we’re a country that believes in free speech and the right of artistic expression,” the spokesman added.
Obama had criticised Sony for pulling the film following a cyber-attack and threats against cinemas.
The US has accused North Korea of being behind the cyber-attack.
In light of concerns about security at theatres, an FBI official said, “We are fully engaged with Sony on the decision” to release the movie.
The movie studio’s CEO, Michael Lynton, said Tuesday afternoon that “while we hope this is only the first step of the film’s release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech”.
By Tuesday evening, slightly more than 200 independently-owned theatres had agreed to show the film.
More might still get on board: one Sony source said the studio is “still counting” the total number and that it could end up “around 300″.
“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview‘ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day”,a statement by Lynton said, according to The Guardian.
Lynton added that the company will definitely continue its efforts to find out ways in order to show the film “to the largest audience possible”.
In recent days, North Korea has suffered severe Internet outages, though it is not clear what caused the disruption. Obama had previously vowed to respond to the cyber-attack against Sony.
The threat against Sony was released on 16 December by the “Guardians of Peace”, the group which has claimed responsibility for the Sony cyber-attack which saw the leak of private and embarrassing email exchanges from the company’s top executives as well as employees’ personal details.
“The world will be full of fear”, the hackers’ intimidating message said while claiming that they would carry out terrorist attacks against every venue which would play the movie.
North Korea, which has praised the attacks, has denied involvement in the Sony breach, but US officials do believe that the already suspected country is behind the hacking attack.