TAMPA — A former government intelligence analyst says U.S. Special Operations Command collected intelligence on American citizens without providing required legal authorization and retaliated against him after he raised concerns.
Former defense analyst John F. Stroncheck, 52, told the Tampa Bay Times he refused a request in January 2009 by his SOCom supervisor to gather intelligence on an individual.
He said doing so was illegal without explicit legal authority, and none was provided.
Stroncheck said he knew from others in his office this was routinely done at the Tampa command with other U.S. citizens.
That authority, Stroncheck said, might be as simple as a finding by the command legal office that the person was connected to terrorism or otherwise posed a threat to U.S. interests.
At that time, Stroncheck was a civilian analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency working at SOCom headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. His supervisor, he said, worked for SOCom.
Stroncheck, a Tampa resident, said his supervisor became enraged at his refusal and indicated SOCom had blanket authority to collect such intelligence.
"All they had to do was give me an email saying, 'John, you have been directed to do this and you have authority and it's been cleared' " by command attorneys, said Stroncheck, who said he resigned from DIA in October 2009 under pressure.
"Just give me the get out of jail free card and I'm covered," he said. "But nobody has carte blanche."
SOCom spokesman Ken McGraw said both the DIA and SOCom inspectors general investigated Stroncheck's charge of improper intelligence collection and found it unsubstantiated.
"I understand what he alleges, but just because someone alleges something doesn't make it true," McGraw said.
"The bottom line is multiple investigations . . . found his allegations were unsubstantiated," he said. "No one improperly collected information on U.S. persons. . . . Automated safeguards in place prevented any improper collection."
McGraw, however, said a SOCom investigation recommended "corrective action" on the training employees received in cases in which legal authority is granted to collect intelligence on citizens.
"The (SOCom) inquiry did determine some people needed to be retrained in the procedures associated with collecting information on U.S. persons," McGraw said. The "investigation determined some people were not as familiar as they should be with the procedures associated with collecting information on U.S. persons and needed additional training or retraining."
Stroncheck said he resigned from the DIA — a combat-support agency that is a major producer and manager of military intelligence — after working for the agency for nearly a year because he felt his supervisor was building a concocted case to fire him.
Before working at SOCom, Stroncheck was an intelligence analyst for U.S. Central Command, also headquartered at MacDill, for 22 months.
He retired from the Marine Corps after 20 years of service.
In August 2009, his SOCom supervisor gave Stroncheck a letter of counseling accusing him of sexually harassing female co-workers. The women, his boss said, accused Stroncheck of lingering in their work space and making inappropriate comments.
Stroncheck called the allegations a fabrication.
"They treated me like the enemy," Stroncheck said. "I resigned because I felt I had no choice. I had to get out of there. I didn't want to get in more trouble, especially when they came after me and made stuff up. It got weird and scary for me."
Stroncheck did not lose his "top secret" security clearance. He now works for a private defense contractor and is currently in Afghanistan.
DIA officials declined to comment on Stroncheck's allegations of improper intelligence gathering.
They said the DIA inspector general found his retaliation claims unsubstantiated.
In July, Stroncheck sent a letter to the senior counsel of the House Intelligence Committee asking for an investigation.
"What is clear is that the illegal actions are kept from sight, shrouded in a cloak of secrecy and bureaucratic maneuvering," the letter said.
He said he received a response from the counsel Tuesday seeking more information after the Times sent a message to the counsel requesting comment.
Stroncheck said he could not identify for the Times the name of the person he was asked to collect intelligence on nor provide information about the specific intelligence he could have gathered.
He said he thought such information might be classified.
Vermont Law School professor Stephen Dycus, an expert on national security law, said if Stroncheck's allegations are true they raise troubling questions.
"I think it's very disturbing not only because an agent of the government is being tasked to do something like this, but also and maybe especially because it is military that is doing it," Dycus said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.