National Counterintelligence Executive Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information Training Course

The following document contains the full text and all slides from a training course provided by the National Counterintelligence Executive on unauthorized disclosures of classified information.  The full course appears to be available for anyone to take online.


Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information — Text Alternative

  • 64 pages
  • September 2011


Welcome to Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information. This course identifies and discusses employees’ responsibilities for safeguarding classified information against unauthorized disclosures. This course also outlines the criminal and administrative sanctions which can be imposed for an unauthorized disclosure. While there are multiple categories of unauthorized disclosures, this course will focus on unauthorized disclosures to the media due to the significance of the damage these leaks have caused to both the Intelligence Community (IC) and national security.

The bottom line is that when a cleared employee improperly discloses classified information, they risk damaging the nation and themselves.

Damage to Nation
• Damage to national security
• Damage to IC capabilities
• Impact IC’s ability to perform its mission
• Benefit adversaries wishing to harm the United States (U.S.)

Harm to Individual
• Revocation of security clearance
• Termination of employment
• Criminal prosecution and associated penalties
• Loss of pension and other retirement benefits

An additional course, Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information – Supplement for Security Professionals, will provide security professionals and their managers with additional training on security professional-specific topics regarding unauthorized disclosures.

Course Organization

Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information is organized into three different lessons with various supporting subtopics and activities:

Lesson 1: Defining Unauthorized Disclosures (5 minutes)
• Define unauthorized disclosures
• Identify the legal authorities for the Executive Branch to withhold information in the interest of national security

Lesson 2: Harm Resulting from Unauthorized Disclosures (10 minutes)
• Describe the damage caused by unauthorized disclosures

Lesson 3: Misconceptions and Employee Responsibilities
3.1 Misconceptions Related to Unauthorized Disclosures (5 minutes)
• Identify misconceptions IC employees may have associated with unauthorized disclosures
3.2 Employee Responsibilities and Accountability (10 minutes)
• Identify employee responsibilities, accountability, and reporting requirements associated with unauthorized disclosures

Lesson 1.1: Unauthorized Disclosures Defined

Executive Order (EO) 13526, signed by President Obama in 2009, is the current policy document codifying the policies and procedures for identifying and safeguarding classified information.

EO 13526, Section 6.1 (rr) defines authorized disclosure as:

“A communication or physical transfer of classified information to an unauthorized recipient.”

An individual is categorized as an authorized recipient if he or she meets the three criteria identified by EO 13526, Section 4.1 (a). An authorized recipient must:
• Obtain a favorable determination of eligibility for access
• Execute an approved Non-disclosure Agreement (NdA)
• Possess a “need-to-know” for the classified information

Anyone that does not meet the three criteria described above is an unauthorized recipient. Unauthorized recipients may include representatives from:
• Foreign intelligence services
• Media outlets

(Image Alt: Three criteria for an authorized recipient – “Eligibility” is a thumbs-up, “Requirement” is a “Need-to-Know” key on a keyboard, and “Agreement” is a signature on an NdA.)

Lesson 1.1: EO 13526 – Classification Levels

The classification level for intelligence information is based specifically on the level of damage to national security that would occur if the information were disclosed to an unauthorized person.

Information is classified as TOP SECRET if an unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security.

Information is classified as SECRET if an unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security.

Information is classified as CONFIDENTIAL if an unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause damage to national security.

Unauthorized disclosures, as defined in the NdA, carry the same penalties regardless of the classification level. It is also critical to understand that information that is “unclassified” does not automatically mean that it is publicly releasable. Some unclassified material may be especially sensitive, the handling of which is governed by other U.S. laws (e.g., Privacy Act, litigation, etc.).

(Image Alt: A collage of three classified documents, an American flag, and a face.)

Lesson 2.1: Categories of Damage


There are six categories of damage to national security.

Select the arrow in the top right corner to learn more about these categories before proceeding.

Damage to Sources and Methods

When classified information is disclosed to unauthorized persons, the resultant damage extends beyond the specific information disclosed. These disclosures can give adversaries insight into the sources and methods used by the U.S. to collect information. Based on this knowledge, adversaries can take steps to either deny these collection efforts or take advantage of them and attempt to deceive the U.S. as to their true capabilities or intentions.

Potential Loss of Life

Intelligence collected from human sources (Human Intelligence or HUMINT) is particularly vulnerable to damage by unauthorized disclosure. Unfortunately, unauthorized disclosures of classified information by the media have been directly linked to the deaths of several individuals.

Effect on International Alliances

Unauthorized disclosures have had a negative impact on U.S. alliances with foreign partners by creating an atmosphere of distrust between the U.S. and foreign governments.
In addition to international alliances with foreign governments, disclosures can also damage the relationship between the IC and allied intelligence services. This has the potential to lead to agencies being less willing to collaborate with the U.S. IC in the future.

Financial Costs

Damage to the IC and national security caused by unauthorized disclosures can be measured in terms of financial loss. According to the unclassified WMD Commission Report, disclosures have collectively cost the American public hundreds of millions of dollars.

Impact to Foreign Policy

Unauthorized disclosures negatively impact foreign policy, including both the deliberation necessary to shape national policy as well as the implementation of approved policies.

Distorting Public Perception

In almost all cases of unauthorized disclosures, the public is only provided partial information. When this occurs, incorrect conclusions may be drawn based on the available information. Because the information is incomplete, the public actually may be less informed of the actions that the government is taking on their behalf. Since the government is unlikely to disclose additional classified information to clarify a previous unauthorized disclosure, the public is left with only partial information with which to form an opinion.

(Image Alt: Six arrows labeled with each category showing a schematic, coffins, a foreign national, money, flags, and a statistical pie graph.)

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