The Defense Department is investigating reports that some Marines shared naked photographs of female Marines, veterans and other women on a secret Facebook page, some of which were taken without their knowledge.
The photographs were shared on a secret Facebook page, "Marines United," that had a membership proof active-duty and retired male Marines, Navy Corpsman and British Royal Marines. Along with identified female military members were photographs of unidentifiable women in various stages of undress, and included obscene comments about some of the women, officials said.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is now investigating. The photographs have been taken down, officials said.
Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller on Sunday refused to comment directly about the ongoing investigation. "For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect," Neller said in a statement.
Gen. Robert Neller, who serves as the commandant of the Marine Corps, could not comment specifically on an ongoing investigation. But did say in part in a statement to NBC7 in San Diego: "I expect every Marine to demonstrate the highest integrity and loyalty to fellow Marines at all times, on duty, off-duty, and online. I expect Marines to give their all to be the best human beings, teammates and Marines possible."
It was not immediately known how many active-duty Marines and other service members were involved or are under investigation. A Marine Corps official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss personnel matters by name, said at least one government contractor had been removed from his job after he posted a link to the photographs.
In response to the report, Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Green, the top enlisted man in the Marine Corps, said: "These negative behaviors are absolutely contrary to what we represent."
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The investigation was first reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The activity was revealed by The War Horse, a nonprofit news organization run by Marine veteran Thomas Brennan.
"We are thankful that Thomas Brennan, a Marine veteran, notified the Marine Corps and NCIS about what he witnessed on the 'Marines United' page," Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Ryan E. Alvis said. "It allowed us to take immediate action to have the explicit photos taken down and to prepare to support potential victims."
Brennan and his family has received threats for reporting on this story, he said in a statement to NBC News.
"My hope is that the victims of this misconduct receive the full measure of justice and that other victims feel safe in stepping forward and having their voices heard," Brennan said.
The CIR report said that more than two dozen active-duty women, officers and enlisted, were identified by their rank, full name and location in the photographs on the secret Facebook page. Other photographs of active duty and veteran women were also posted and linked through a Google Drive link.
The social media accounts behind the sharing have been deleted by Facebook and Google at the Marine Corps' request.
An internal Marine Corps document obtained by The Associated Press says a former Marine maintained the Google Drive and that it had a following of 30,000. The NCIS investigation is "in support of two individuals affected by postings," according to the document.
A Marine proven to have posted an explicit photo of another person could potentially be charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the internal document asserted. A Marine who directly participates in, encourages or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions, according to the document.
"The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website," Alvis said. "This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual."
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, called the online behavior "degrading, dangerous and completely unacceptable."
"The military men and women who proudly volunteer to serve their country should not have to deal with this kind of reprehensible conduct," Smith said.
Service members and civilians can report a crime or pass information on Marines United to NCIS via text, the web. All of these methods offer service members and civilians a safe, discreet, and anonymous option to report criminal and force protection threats within the USN and USMC here or 1-877-579-3648.
If a Marine believes he/she is a victim of a crime and wants to maintain privacy, he/she may reach out to the chaplain or a Victim Legal Counsel.
Services available to a Marine who is affected by Marines United, to include: chaplains, Victim Legal Counsel, Behavioral Health Counselors, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Sexual Assault Victim Advocates, Chain of Command, NCIS, Local Law Enforcement, Inspector General, Equal Opportunity Advisors, Victim Witness Assistant Coordinators, and Military OneSource here or 1-800-342-9647