From NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a very unusual step, during preparations to roll out the new Pentagon budget this year, of asking everyone who is participating in the budget process to sign a non-disclosure agreement ... even the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
NBC News has obtained a copy of this agreement, which states that the undersigned will "preserve the confidentiality of information related to the formulation of the President's budget."
The agreement goes on to say that the individuals "will not divulge the budget-related information ... to any individual not authorized to receive it, and under no circumstances will I disclose such information outside the Department of Defense and other government agencies directly involved in the defense planning ... such as the Office of Management and Budget."
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said that "the highest-ranking people in this department were asked to sign this" and that Gates signed one himself. A Defense official could not tell us what the penalty is for someone who breaches the agreement.
In a building where people deal with classified information during every second of the day -- information that, if leaked, opens the leaker to criminal charges -- it is extremely rare for Pentagon civilians and military leadership to sign a non-disclosure.
"This is highly sensitive stuff," Morrell explained, adding, "classified information with potential criminal consequences gets leaked all the time."
Morrell denied that the non-disclosure implies that Gates does not trust his most senior advisers, saying that it actually allows the Pentagon leadership to "work together, perhaps in a more collegial and honest way."