U.S. Weighs Legal Options in Wikileaks Release

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. From the CBS Evening News, Nov. 29, 2010.

Attorney general Eric Holder threatened Monday to come down hard on Wikileaks with the full legal weight of the federal government.

"There's a predicate for us to believe that crimes have been committed here and we are in the process of investigating those crimes," he said.

At the White House, CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports press secretary Robert Gibbs went even further, finding Wikileaks guilty before charges have even been filed.

"Wikileaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals," said Gibbs.

Clinton: Document Leak an Attack on U.S., World
Outrage Over Wikileaks
The WikiLeaks Impact

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has not revealed who gave him the documents, but officials think it was Army private Bradley Manning. He's in a military prison in Virginia, charged with leaking other classified information that investigators think he downloaded while serving as a U.S. intelligence officer in Iraq.

On Capitol Hill some Republicans are calling on the justice department to put Assange behind bars under the charge of espionage. That won't be easy. For starters, Assange is an Australian citizen whose whereabouts are currently unknown. And the espionage laws are outdated, written during World War I.

"Those were designed for a different era, a different kind of espionage threat," said former assistant attorney general for national security Kenneth Wainstein. "They talk about sketches and code books and signal books. They weren't designed to deal with a mass leak on the internet"

The White House has ordered a government-wide crackdown on how classified information is handled to try to make sure this doesn't happen again. It's too late for the hundreds of thousands of documents that are already in Wikileaks' possession and that they plan to release over the coming months.

Links to Leaked Cables:
Cables Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels (NYT)
The US Embassy Cable (Guardian)
A Superpower's View of the World (Spiegel, in English)
Los papeles del Departamento de Estado (El Pais)
Wikileaks: Dans les coulisses de la diplomatie americaine (Le Monde)

  • Chip-Reid_bio_140x100_bw.jpg
    Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.