Almost two weeks after a report revealed that active duty Marines were soliciting and sharing nude photos of their female colleagues on a closed Facebook group, Navy investigators have identified 1,200 names from the parent group involved, some of whom might have been involved in distributing the images.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Naval Criminal Investigative Services Special Agent Curtis Evans said that of the 1,200 names, 725 were active duty names associated with profiles, 150 were in the Marine reserves, 15 in the Navy and the remaining 300 have yet to be identified.
The Facebook group the Marines were part of, called Marines United, had more than 30,000 members before it was shut down. The nude photos were stored on a Google drive that was shared in the group, and on Tuesday the Marines’ top officer, Gen. Robert B. Neller, told lawmakers that an estimated 500 individuals had accessed the drive. The drive was taken down after it was officially identified; however, versions of it have continued to pop up, as have various iterations of Marines United.
The initial batch of names being probed by the NCIS were compiled from screenshots taken by the Marine-turned-reporter Thomas Brennan, who first broke the story. Evans said that since the group had disbanded prior to the official inquiry, investigators had to use evidence gathered by Brennan. Evans also emphasized that just because individuals had been identified, it didn’t mean they were accused of wrongdoing.
He added that more than 20 female victims had stepped forward since the investigation began.
On Friday, USA Today reported that the Pentagon had set up a joint task force to combat illicit photo sharing and online harassment, as almost every branch of the U.S. military has been embroiled by the growing scandal. The newspaper also said that the investigation had expanded into gay porn websites after a male Marine came forward and said a photo of his had been posted to one of the sites without his permission.
Evans said that there was no official criminal investigation into any of the gay porn sites yet, though the investigation had expanded to sites other than Marines United.
Despite the hard line that the Marine Corps and the Pentagon is taking on illicit photo sharing within the ranks, the military’s laws, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, might prevent the highest levels of punishment for service members involved. This is because the code stipulates that if the photos were taken consensually before they were shared, the punishments might only be administrative in nature.
On Thursday, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat of the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, moved to rectify the perceived loophole by proposing a bill that would allow service members to be prosecuted for sharing pictures that “a reasonable person would know or understand” are meant to remain private between parties.
“Clearly the antiquated language of the UCMJ must be fixed to address this national scandal,” she said to reporters following the bill’s announcement.
While some in Congress are focused on fixing the legal issues around the scandal, the Marine Corps has created a more than 30-strong task force aimed at attacking the culture of misogyny that led to it in the first place. The group is headed by Gen. Glenn Walters, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
The task force will create focus groups to understand the cultural underpinnings of sites like Marines United and identify gaps in the Marines’ social media policy that might be exploited. Additionally, according to the head of Marine public affairs Brig. Gen. James Glynn, Marines will now have to read and sign a piece of paper every year indicating they are aware of and understand the branch’s social media policy.