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Sharing Of Nude Photos Of Female Marines Online Prompts Pentagon Investigation

Marines walk around Times Square during Fleet Week in New York City last year. A Pentagon investigation is underway into the posting of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of nude photos of female Marines.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Getty Images
Marines walk around Times Square during Fleet Week in New York City last year. A Pentagon investigation is underway into the posting of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of nude photos of female Marines.

Hundreds of Marines are reportedly under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, after a trove of photographs were shared online that show female service members and veterans in the nude. The images were spread via a closed Facebook group with thousands of members.

When the photos were shared via Marines United — a Facebook group that's intended for male Marines and Marine veterans only — they drew bawdy and obscene comments, according to two nonprofit news sites: the War Horse and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

According to War Horse founder Thomas James Brennan, many of the photos on the Marines United page included personal information about the female service members, from their name, rank and duty station to the names of their social media accounts.

The Facebook page also included links to a Google Drive with even more images — and an invitation to any members to contribute photos. The images were obtained in a variety of ways, Brennan reports, from sharing by former partners to stalking and, potentially, the hacking of service members' personal accounts.

Almost immediately after the War Horse contacted the Marine Corps about the images in late January, the service asked Google and Facebook to delete accounts linked to the material, and an NCIS inquiry was begun, Brennan writes. But he adds that more nude photos soon appeared on the Marines United page.

"This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust and degrades the individual," the Marine Corps says in a statement about what it calls "social media misconduct." The service says those involved could face charges based on at two portions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — one that involves consent and an expectation of privacy, and another that centers on distributing indecent material.

"A Marine who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions," the Marine Corps says.

At least two people have already been punished, according to Brennan: a Marine veteran who worked as a government subcontractor was fired after being the first to post a Google Drive link to the photos; and a service member was fired for secretly taking photos of a woman who was picking up gear at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

"He was standing close enough to smell my perfume," that Marine tells Brennan. She added, "This is going to follow me — just like he did."

There's also been backlash against Brennan, according to Marine Corps Times:

"The news report was authored by Thomas Brennan, an Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient who founded The War Horse in 2016. The nonprofit news site focuses on military and veterans affairs, and tales of combat heroism.

"After its publication, several members of the Facebook group lashed out at Brennan, making threats against him and his family."

The revelation that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of female service members have been targeted by their fellow Marines has set off intense reactions from members of the military service that often touts its motto: Semper Fidelis — "Always Faithful."

Here's one reaction to the Marine Corps' statement on its Facebook page, from a female captain:

"What bothers me more than the actions of these few and the inaction of their small-unit leaders is the number of commenters here and other places justifying the FB page. These are weak, leaderless men, probably low performers afraid of being outpaced, denigrating women in order to feel superior. And doing it online with Internet bravado. Pathetic. Some of them may be teachable, will learn from this, and grow up to be worthy of the title, but they're not there yet."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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