Classified Information is defined as data, regardless of form that includes sensitive information that its disclosure is restricted by law or regulation to particular group of people. Information is classified at one of three levels based on the amount of danger that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause to national security.
The highest basic level of classified information is Top Secret. Top Secret information is defined as information that if disclosed would reasonably be expected to cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security. The next to highest level of classified information is Secret. Secret information is defined as information that if disclosed would cause "serious damage" to national security. The third level of classified information is Confidential. Confidential is defined as information that if disclosed could cause "damage" to national security.
There are other restrictions on information such as NTK - need to know and SSI - sensitive security information. In these dangerous times, a slip or accidental disclosure of classified information can easily result in loss of life and billions of dollars of damage.
The extraordinary sensitivity of our intelligence and defense organizations' mission requires the extraordinary protection against possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Any information coming to your attention concerning the loss or unauthorized disclosure of classified information should be reported immediately to proper government officials. Due to a number of recent security incidents involving the unauthorized disclosure of classified information training programs like "Handling Classified Information" has seen a significant increase in demand according to Spy-Ops. Organizations are taking additional steps to inform employees and contract workers of their responsibilities when handling sensitive information.
The most widely known case of leaking classified information came when the identity of a secret agent was disclosed. CIA covert operative Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, had her identity publically disclosed in multiple newspapers back in July of 2003. Since then, disclosures of classified information seem be become know monthly.
Examples (By far not an exhaustive list):
Jul 15, 2008 The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is exploring into how confidential and extremely sensitive information on airline security and the state of airporst was leaked to the press.
April 2008 A Defense Department official who worked as a weapons policy analyst pleaded guilty to disclosing classified military information that was later passed on to China.
August 2007 A Congressman revealed a budget cut in the classified portion of the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Bill dealing with the human-intelligence programs.
July 2007 Millions of documents containing sensitive and sometimes classified information have been floating about freely on file sharing networks after being inadvertently exposed by individuals downloading P2P software on systems that held the data. Among these documents were the Pentagon's classified (secret) network infrastructure diagrams, complete with IP addresses as well as information on five separate Department of Defense information security system audits.
October 2006 A report published on the front page of the New York Times included a classified one-page slide "Iraq: Indications and Warnings of Civil Conflict" from an Oct. 18 military briefing.
August 2006 A Navy lawyer could be put behind bars for 30 years after Navy officials charged him with passing along secret information while he was stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
April 2006 The CIA fired an officer who acknowledged, after failing a polygraph examination, giving classified information to a reporter.
April 2005 The Justice Department launched an investigation into leaks to the media about the National Security Agency's classified domestic surveillance program.
These incidents and many others have triggered multiple ongoing investigations by the FBI and many other federal entities. One would think that the people who have been authorized to handle classified information would take divulging this information more seriously. We should all be outraged when our country's secrets are disclosed for whatever reason. After all, it puts all of us at risk.