Sony has told theaters they do not have to show "The Interview," after the group claiming responsibility for stealing troves of Sony executives' emails released a note apparently threatening attacks on the theaters where the movie will be played, sources said.
The Department of Homeland Security said the threat is not backed up by any "credible intelligence," but sources told ABC News that the Sony hack and matters tied to it are being investigated not just as a criminal cyber matter but as a national security matter by the nation's law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
A prime suspect is the North Korean regime, and sources say this hack has shown an unprecedented capacity and ability to directly harm a major corporation.
Last week, the FBI held a private meeting in New York with reps from across the entertainment industry to brief them on cyber-related threats against them. The Sony hack was not the only topic discussed, but it was a major one, sources said.
The note was reportedly released by the Guardians of Peace, the group claiming to be behind previous Sony hack attacks and suspected of being linked to North Korea. "The Interview" is a fictional comedy about two Americans who are asked to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Today's message is the first time the group has discussed "The Interview" by name rather than relatively vague references.
"We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places 'The Interview' [will] be shown, including the premier, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to," the note released by the group of hackers reads. "The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001."
It goes on to say that people should stay away from places where the movie is shown and "whatever comes… all the world will denounce the SONY."
An official in the Department of Homeland Security said the department is "aware" of the threat.
"We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States," the official said.
Two former high-level government officials also downplayed the threat to ABC News.
"Somebody is playing mind games with [SONY]," said Richard Clarke, cyber security expert and former White House counter-terrorism advisor. "I think North Korea has little or no capability to do any physical attacks, commando activity, or terrorism in the U.S. By saying it's coming, however, they hope to keep people from the theaters and, thereby, hurt Sony's revenue."
Matt Olsen, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and like Clarke an ABC News consultant, said the threat sounded more like "hooliganism" than anything really serious.
"You have to take these types of threats seriously up to a point, but this sounds more like a hoax," Olsen said.
Another cyber security expert told ABC News that Sony can't rule out cyber-attacks on the locations where the movie will be played, but short of the group having a team on the ground bent on violence, said the wording of the note "sounds like hyperbole."
The threatening note was reportedly included in a new batch of emails pilfered from Sony computers, this time allegedly from the account of Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. Previous email batches have embarrassed major Sony figures when their personal thoughts, criticisms and jokes about A-list celebrities were publicly leaked.
Earlier this month a North Korean official called allegations that the government was involved in the hacking "wild speculation" but called it a "righteous deed," according to a North Korean state news agency.
"[W]hat we clearly know is that the SONY Pictures is the very one which was going to produce a film abetting a terrorist act while hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] by taking advantage of the hostile policy of the U.S. administration towards the DPRK," the article said.
Monday the stars of "The Interview", Seth Rogen and James Franco, told "Good Morning America" they never could've predicted the real-world drama surrounding the fictional story.
"I can't definitively say I know the ramifications of the storm. I mean, I don't know if the hacking honestly is because of our movie, definitively or not," Rogen said. "I know that it has been the center of a lot of media attention lately. It is weird because we just wanted to make a really funny, entertaining movie and the movie itself is very silly and wasn't meant to be controversial in any way."