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Probe Into Marines' Nude Photo Scandal to Include Review of 'Underlying Cultural Issues'

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon on March 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The commandant of the Marine Corps said he doesn’t have an indication of how many active-duty Marines may have participated or were targeted in the posting of nude photos in a private Facebook group and that no charges have been brought yet.

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal News, since Jan. 30 nude photos of more than two dozen active duty and veteran women, including officers and enlisted, have been distributed on the Marines United page and via Google Drive by their full name, rank and station. The photos were discovered and first reported by Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, who runs The War Horse and has received death threats since the news broke.

The thousands of nude or racy photos of female Marines were a mix of images taken surreptitiously without the women’s consent and photos that were taken in the context of private relationships and posted without consent. Obscene comments relating to the photos were shared among the site’s members, which included retired and active-duty Marines.

At the Pentagon today, Gen. Robert Neller told reporters that the allegations “undermine everything that we stand for as a Marine Corps and as Marines: discipline, honor, professionalism and respect and trust amongst each other.”

“I don’t know how many active duty Marines are involved in this or participated in this website, Marines United. I don’t know the exact number of Marines that may have been targeted. I don’t know how many active duty Marines participated or were witting to this behavior. The investigation that’s ongoing will help us understand the scope of this, and I can assure you if there’s accountability to be made those that are involved will be held accountable,” Neller vowed.

“For those Marines that are watching this or listening or may have been involved in this, if you’re participating in this type of behavior in any way, shape or form, you’re not helping me or your Marine Corps and I’d ask you to reconsider your participation in any sort of behavior like this. You know, we claim that being a Marine is a special title and something that you earn. There’s honor here. But there is no honor in denigrating a fellow Marine in any way, shape or form.”

The Naval Criminal Investigation Service is currently investigating, and a Marines task force will “also take a look at any underlying cultural issues.”

“They’re going to look at what’s going on, while developing plans for corrective actions and recommendations to policies, procedures, education and training of Marines that will prevent this in the future, and the culture that — I’d say subculture — that may have given rise to this,” the general said.

Neller said the number of women who have filed a complaint that their photos were posted is “less than 10 so far — but we would encourage anybody else who believes they’ve been involved in this to come forward.” He noted Brennan had identified around 30 women whose photos were posted on Marines United.

The commandant called the threats against Brennan “as disgusting and as sick as any some of this other stuff, that somebody who would try to bring this to attention would be attacked by other Marines.”

He said there are “probably” other sites sharing nude photos of female Marine colleagues as well, and “as people come forward, hopefully more, we’ll find out more about this and other sites that are out there.”

After the Marines United page came under investigation, a Marines United 2.0 group popped up to continue posting photos. “The ability in this domain to move around and hide under the cover of darkness and not to stand up and be somebody of substance, I think that speaks for my opinion,” Neller said.

“This is our problem and I own it. We own it. So we have a culture we believe in, and if there’s people out there that aren’t going to buy in 100 percent to that culture, then we probably need to have a conversation… I don’t know if this is something they’re doing to try to increase their rep because, you know, they’re — they may or may not have been in combat or want to go to combat and so they got to get creds on this group.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a statement today, “The purported actions of civilian and military personnel on social media websites, including some associated with the Marines United group and possibly others, represent egregious violations of the fundamental values we uphold at the Department of Defense.”

“The chain of command is taking all appropriate action to investigate potential misconduct and to maintain good order and discipline throughout our armed forces,” Mattis said. “Lack of respect for the dignity and humanity of fellow members of the Department of Defense is unacceptable and counter to unit cohesion. We will not excuse or tolerate such behavior if we are to uphold our values and maintain our ability to defeat the enemy on the battlefield.”