Sean Penn Talks El Chapo, the Sony Hack, and Bernie Sanders

March 5, 2016, 1:23 AM UTC
"The Gunman" Los Angeles Premiere
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 12: Actor Sean Penn attends the premiere of "The Gunman" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on March 12, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Photograph by Jason LaVeris — FilmMagic/Getty Images

Cybersecurity is such a hot topic these days that even actor and activist Sean Penn has plenty to say about the topic.

The two-time Academy Award winner appeared on stage in San Francisco on Friday at the RSA cybersecurity conference, where he talked about issues ranging from the major hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014 to his recent controversial Rolling Stone article about meeting drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Penn described the impact of the Sony cyber attack on Hollywood, saying that, initially, “certain people in that studio reacted” with “incredible cowardness.”

The actor did not specify what exactly was cowardly, but presumably it had something to do with Sony Pictures pulling the theatrical release of the North Korean spy spoof movie The Interview after threatening messages from a hacking group that claimed allegiance with North Korea.

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Penn explained his attraction to cybersecurity while admitting that he has an “absolute allergy” to technology in general, as well as “perhaps a laziness about it.”

“If your cell phone is in your pocket, it might not work right now, because I get near the damn machines and they screw up,” said Penn.

If the actor were to take a career in entrepreneurship, cybersecurity would be the business sector he would invest in, he explained.

Penn’s comments were an often lighthearted detour into celebrity from the typical wonky discussions at the RSA conference. During the week of speeches and symposiums, government officials, security executives, and researchers opined about security vulnerabilities, academic studies, and regulatory issues involving Apple’s (AAPL) fight with the FBI over access to an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

When asked by a moderator about his strangest moments involving technology, Penn joked, “I had a few lately.” He was, of course, referring to his first-person profile of El Chapo, in which he described himself as being the “single most technologically illiterate man” put in a position of having to use a number of technologies to pull off his planned meeting with the drug lord.

Penn briefly described how certain people he knew were able to set up the meeting. The actor said he is strongly against the war on drugs and wanted the piece to juxtapose his meeting with the drug lord with what he feels is America’s complicity with the international drug trade.

“As somebody who writes, I was interested in what would happen between that interaction and my pen,” said Penn.

Asked about an interview on 60 Minutes in which he said that his article “failed,” Penn said that he meant that “the interpretations at large by mainstream media virtually failed to see what the article was about, not only in the lines but between the lines.” He now called his article a “good failure” because television news continues to discuss his article and comment about its failure to discuss the drug war.

Penn also said that he is often “taken very literally” in his public remarks and that he doesn’t “know if I mean anything literally.” More generally, he said the “24-hour news cycle is slaughtering us” and that an overabundance of instantaneous news coverage inhibits more comprehensive coverage of important issues.

Penn also chimed in on the upcoming presidential elections, and singled out “the defecation on America that is the Republican debate.” He levied harsh criticism on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and alluded that the two could “really devastate the rest of the world.”

For more on the presidential elections, check out our video:


Penn had nicer things to say about the Democratic nominees.

“I think Bernie Sanders is an exceptional American,” he said, “and I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”


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