The Daily Beast has uncovered three new descendant groups engaging in nude-photo-sharing, two new private shared drives, groups selling Marines United T-shirts and challenge coins and individuals posting links or attempts to sell the explicit images on the dark web.
As the reporting continues into the nude-photo scandal plaguing the Pentagon, The Daily Beast has learned that some of the Marines United descendant groups are not connected to the U.S. military at all, but are copycat groups set up by foreign nationals to profit from the original group’s notoriety. On the private Facebook group Marines United 214, requests for nude photographs are met with demands for payment and links to the dark-web marketplace AlphaBay, where the photo-sets are listed for sale.
Investigators face many challenges in building a case on the dark web, said Stephen Pearson, who teaches digital crime and digital terrorism at Utica College, and is the author of Digital Triage Forensics: Processing the Digital Crime Scene.
“The dark web is kind of like a street,” Pearson said. “You’ve got houses with addresses and houses without addresses. The ones without addresses, nobody knows anything about those places. But it’s still on the same street, still on the same internet and connection and hardware, but the places are difficult to find. And without the networking encryption you can’t get there.”
AlphaBay is not accessible through normal search methods, because it isn’t indexed by Google or other common web-browsing software. A user must know the actual web address (URL) and to avoid detection use a TOR browser, which is an open-source, encrypted web browser free of tracking software.
“AlphaBay is nothing more than… a mall on the internet that allows people to transfer their wares,” Pearson said. “But the reason you have these types of sites is that most of what’s sold is illegal. It’s child pornography, kill-my-husband, drugs, guns, you want to buy a child—you name the type of global crime, this is a marketplace where you can buy these things.”
Screenshots provided to The Daily Beast by a member of Marines United 214, who asked to be called “Andre” to protect his identity, show that some members of the group are attempting to profit from the controversy surrounding Marines United. (The advertisements on AlphaBay for nude photos of military members was first reported by The Military Times.)
“The Marines United controversy is not only spawning copycat pages, but also a subset of pages built to exploit service members trying to view the photos,” the source said. “Marines United 214 seems to specialize in trying to monetize the scandal, requesting money from any commenter who asks for access to ‘the drive’ or collections of photos. There’s evidence that this page existed before the controversy, and changed its name afterwards to attract those interested.”
One member of Marines United 214 who goes by the username “Quade Norush” wrote that he had received “almost 60 messages” requesting links to the share drives, but he claimed to be motivated by principle, not profit.
“[I found] out people in this group are spamming others for money. That’s not how this works,” Norush wrote. “So I’m gonna be the good guy and just put the links out there. Journalists and badge bunnys can [fuck off]. Enjoy you filthy animals and stay frosty.”
Norush then posted a link to zip file named, “Girls of Marines United.”
Another member of Marines United 214 with the username “Chandra Viswas” is said to be spearheading the advertising push that hawks photo sets on AlphaBay, the source said.
“Reminder that this exists,” Viswas wrote on March 15. “We’ve sold thousands and the content is stunning. Find us on the deep web on AlphaBay.” The screenshot posted by Viswas from AlphaBay claims to have 31.8 gigabytes from the Marines United archive, including photos, videos, and webcam footage.
As AlphaBay describes itself: “We are a darknet market that specializes in all kinds of illegal goods” adding, “We are an anonymous marketplace selling drugs, weapons and credit cards… we take no responsibility if you get caught.”
Pearson said TOR browsers encrypt users’ messages and data and make it difficult, if not impossible, for investigators to find the dark site or track the networks. He sees AlphaBay as a direct descendant of Silk Road, another dark-web marketplace which was shut down after investigators received help from the National Security Agency and foreign governments.
The dark web “makes it much more difficult for an investigator,” Pearson said. “That’s why it took almost three years for the task force working on Silk Road. It wasn’t that they solved it by technology. The guy who was running Silk Road… the reason they caught him was he posted a message in a forum a year or so prior, where he used an alias that he also used later, as his alias on Silk Road. They were able to identify him by the mistake he made in the open web.”
Most of the new groups descended from Marines United continue to operate on the open web, often as private groups on Facebook. Those similar in nature to the original Marines United chatroom who are still sharing photos include: Marines United 214, Marines United 3.0, Marines United 4.0, and Scuttle Butt.
In four other groups, The Himalayas, The Himalayan Cult, Marines Unchained, and an open Facebook chat room called F’n Knife Hands, members have posted derogatory sexual content directed at female service members. A “Marines United Gaming” was also found on the Playstation Network. The closed group of 70 members says only U.S. Marines and “green-side Corpsman” are allowed to join, meaning U.S. Navy Corpsman who serve in Marine Corps units.
In Marines Unchained, Marine Cpl. Justin Brewer posted a picture of himself wearing a Marines United T-shirt under what appears to be his Marine Corps desert camouflaged uniform, saying, “Driving onto base yesterday via Fallbrook gate [Camp Pendleton, California] and see a big electronic sign, said, ‘Exploited Online? Call NCIS 760 blah, blah, blah.’ Me and my work partner started cracking the fuck up. Lol, and I’m currently wearing my MU shirt at work on base. Wooks [female Marines] love it.”
Other rooms like The Himalayan Cult and The Himalayas, show members of Marines United buying military challenge coins with the Marines United logo with the slogan “Who’s got ’em”—a reference to the Facebook chat rooms where members would ask for pictures of nudes. The back of the coin shows the battlefield cross with the number of service members who commit suicide on a daily basis—22, according to a 2013 Department of Veterans Affairs study. It reads, “Remember you are not alone. We’ve got your back.”
Marine Lance Cpl. Marisa Woytek, an active-duty service member said she was harassed repeatedly by one Marine veteran in the original Marines United group and in The Himalayas, one of the newly discovered secret chat rooms. She and Marine veteran Erika Butner testified on Capitol Hill last week about the ongoing retaliation they face online since speaking out about photo-sharing.
“One of the former Marines that has been harassing me has been a predator to many women online…denigrating female Marines,” Woytek said Wednesday to the congresswomen of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, along with Republican Rep. Walter Jones. Woytek said the same Marine veteran also threatened to throw another active-duty female Marine into a barrel of acid.
The Daily Beast has identified that veteran as former Marine infantry Sgt. Eddie Torres, a former machine gunner with Third Battalion, First Marine Regiment, a infantry unit in California. Torres is a former drill instructor who served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Calls for his comments on the harassment were not returned.
Screenshots obtained by The Daily Beast show Torres calling Woytek a “rat fuck” and a “dumb cunt,” and alleging that her nude photographs were given to the British Royal Marines and Australian military. Woytek says she has not shared nude photographs of herself; in the photos of her that were shared and commented on, she was clothed.
In the private Himalayan Cult chatroom, Torres verbally attacked another active-duty female Marine sergeant, writing, “Stupid crack head looking wook not wearing her clown-looking make up. Like night and day.”
Meanwhile, the investigation into Marines’ online conduct continues to expand and take on new fronts, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) said.
Fifteen service members now face potential prosecution for their involvement in the Marines United nude-photo-sharing scandal: 14 U.S. Marines and one U.S Navy sailor, plus 29 Marines who may face non-judicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for conduct that is deemed “contrary to good order and military discipline,” but which does not violate federal statutes or warrant a military trial by court martial.
Two active-duty Marines with Second Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, an infantry unit in California received punishments for online comments unrelated to nude-photo-sharing, The Washington Post reported; those Marines were demoted in rank and lost pay for comments denigrating a male Marine official.
To date, The Daily Beast has found use of multiple distribution channels including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, Pornhub, and Anon-IB, as well as sites on the dark web.