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Julian Assange Defends WikiLeaks, Manning and Free Press on '60 Minutes'

julian assange on '60 minutes'
Last night, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sat down for a rare, extended interview with Steve Kroft of '60 Minutes.' In what CBS has called Assange's "most extensive television interview to date," the Australian national defended his organization's mission, discussed the roots of his own anti-authoritarian philosophy, and compared WikiLeaks' core principles to "those of the U.S. Revolution."

Assange, who is still fighting an extradition warrant to Sweden, has spent the last several weeks at a 600-acre English estate, where British authorities have placed him under house arrest. And, although he told Kroft that even this "gilded cage" has been cramping his nomadic style, Assange certainly seemed as sharp and preternaturally poised as he's ever been. He eloquently defended his free-speech activism, and confidently defended the legality of his actions.

Unlike fellow '60 Minutes' stalwart Lesley Stahl, who displayed a genuine, child-like fascination during her softball interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Kroft seemed determined to get a rise out of Assange. His interrogation was pointed. ("For somebody who abhors secrets, you run a pretty secret organization," Kroft accused.) His counterarguments were terse. ("There's a special set of rules in the United States for disclosing classified information.") And his disposition was largely frigid. During several cutaway shots, he looked as if he'd just bitten into a lemon.

Through it all, though, Assange remained calm and collected. He firmly reiterated his belief in WikiLeaks' pursuit of global transparency, and defined his brand of activism with laconic confidence. "We are free press activists," he said. "It's not about saving the whales. It's about giving people the information they need to support whaling or not support whaling." Only when Kroft pointed out that some Americans think of Army Private Bradley Manning as a "traitor" did Assange's eyes light up. "That's clearly not true," he quickly responded.

Assange also roundly denied accusations that his organization has an explicitly anti-American agenda. "We don't 'go after' a particular country," he explained. "We just stick to our promise of publishing material that is likely to have a significant impact." Doing his best Glenn Beck impersonation, Assange even likened his core libertarian principles to those of America's founding fathers. "Our founding values are those of the U.S. revolution," he argued. "They are those of the people like Jefferson and Madison. And we have a number of Americans in our organization. If you're a whistleblower and you have material that is important, we will accept it, we will defend you and we will publish it. You can't turn away material simply because it comes from the United States."

Part 1

Part 2

Tags: 60Minutes, CBS, government, interview, JulianAssange, law, politics, SteveKroft, top, transparency, Web, whistleblower, Wikileaks