Assange: WikiLeaks Played "Inside the Rules"

Argues That Release of State Department Cables Is Protected By First Amendment

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After the release of the State Department cables, Attorney General Eric Holder condemned WikiLeaks for putting national security at risk. "There's a real basis. There is a predicate for us to believe that crimes have been committed here," Holder said at a press conference.

Holder announced that the Justice Department and the Pentagon were conducting a criminal investigation. They are reportedly looking at the Espionage Act of 1917 and other statutes to find a way to prosecute the Web site's founder and publisher, Julian Assange, and extradite him to the U.S.

But Assange told "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft that this is "completely outrageous."

Julian Assange: The "60 Minutes" Interview
Watching at home, it might seem simple to assemble the interviews and produce the pieces that you see on "60 Minutes" every Sunday night. Well, there was nothing "simple" about getting Julian Assange to sit down for his first major TV interview.

The Man Behind WikiLeaks
Poll: What's your take on WikiLeaks?
Segment: Julian Assange, Part 1
Segment: Julian Assange, Part 2
Extra: Assange Stays on the Move
Extra: Assange's Defense & Daniel Ellsberg

"It is the worst form of censorship we have seen by the United States since the 1950s, since the McCarthy Era," Assange argued.

And he told Kroft he was surprised by the government's reaction.

"But you were screwing with the forces of nature. You have made some of the most powerful people in the world your enemies. You had to expect that they might retaliate," Kroft pointed out. "You took, you gathered, you stored all sorts of classified cables and documents. And then released them to the world on the Internet. They see that as a threat."

"They see it as highly embarrassing. I think what it's really about is keeping the illusion of control," Assange said. "I'm not surprised about that. I am surprised at how the sort of flagrant disregard for U.S. traditions. That is what I'm surprised about."

"You're shocked? Someone in the Australian Government said that, 'Look, if you play outside the rules you can't expect to be protected by the rules.' And you played outside the rules. You've played outside the United States' rules," Kroft said.

"No. We've actually played inside the rules. We didn't go out to get the material. We operated just like any U.S. publisher operates. We didn't play outside the rules. We played inside the rules."

When Kroft pointed out there's a special set of rules in the U.S. for disclosing classified information, Assange replied, "There's a special set of rules for soldiers, for members of the State Department, who are disclosing classified information. There's not a special set of rules for publishers to disclose classified information. There is the First Amendment. It covers the case. And there's been no precedent that I'm aware of in the past 50 years of prosecuting a publisher for espionage. It is just not done. Those are the rules. You do not do it."

Produced by Howard L. Rosenberg and Tanya Simon