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State Dept. said to have OK'd 'The Interview'

Not only did US officials view the upcoming film, they were fine with Sony keeping the final assassination scene, according to a new report.

Seth Rogen and James Franco, stars of "The Interview," are at the center of the Sony Pictures controversy. Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

The US State Department viewed the upcoming film "The Interview" over the summer and was fine with its final scene depicting the assassination of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, a new report claims.

Sony Pictures, the victim of massive data breaches that have let hackers publicly reveal personal information of employees and celebrities, allowed senior defense analysts and members of the State Department to screen "The Interview" to ensure its last scene would be suitable, The Daily Beast reported. Those who had watched the film reportedly said it would be fine for Sony to release it without any edits.

The revelation that the US government may have approved the film adds a new wrinkle to the ongoing controversy. At the center of the e-mail chain on the assassination plot is Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, who Sony hired to consult on the film. Bennett reportedly emailed Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, saying that the film's depiction of Kim Jong-un being assassinated could create dissension within North Korea and possibly spark plots against the country's leader.

"While toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will)," Bennett wrote to Sony earlier this year, according to The Daily Beast. "So from a personal perspective, I would personally prefer to leave the ending alone."

According to The Daily Beast, e-mails indicate that a person "very senior" in the State Department agreed with Bennett's assessment of the film and encouraged Sony to move on with its premiere despite threats from North Korea. Robert King, a special envoy to North Korea, also indicated that he had no intention of stopping Sony, The Daily Beast reports.

"Michael, 
I talked with Amb. King a few minutes ago," wrote Bennett. "Their office has apparently decided that this is typical North Korean bullying, likely without follow-up, but you never know with North Korea. Thus, he did not appear worried and clearly wanted to leave any decisions up to Sony."

For its part, Sony reportedly worked with the State Department to ensure the threats it was facing from North Korea weren't credible and that it had the go-ahead to depict the assassination of North Korea's leader. The Daily Beast also reports that Sony executives cast doubt on whether the film should actually show the assassination, believing that it could do more harm than good. However, Seth Rogen, the film's co-director and co-star, as well as co-writer of the story on which the screenplay is based, pushed to keep the ending in place.

It's not clear at this point if the final cut of the movie will actually include an assassination. Given the state of the controversy and the ongoing threats, some rumors have suggested that Sony could go as far as to take "The Interview" out of theaters rather than face any backlash.

Neither Sony nor the State Department immediately responded to a request for comment.

"The Interview," which stars Rogen and James Franco, has been a lightning rod of controversy since the summer, when North Korea made threats against Sony Pictures releasing the film. That all intensified earlier this month when it was revealed that Sony Pictures was hacked and massive amounts of data were stolen from its servers.

There has been rampant speculation since the breach that North Korea could have been behind the attacks in an effort to stop Sony Pictures from releasing "The Interview." The government itself has denied involvement, but it lauded the efforts on the part of the group that has claimed to have hacked Sony, Guardians of Peace.

Initially, the data leaked onto the Web included everything from personal e-mails sent between Sony executives to rumors about celebrities to personal employee information. The situation ramped up on Tuesday, however, after the Guardians threatened that if "The Interview" is shown in theaters, an attack on the scale of the September 11 attacks could follow.

The threat has been taken seriously and a premiere scheduled for New York City has been canceled. Sony has also given theaters the right to not play the film when it officially opens December 25.