America’s fighting men and women might have been sweating bullets last week, after Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the armed services “are looking into” military email addresses that showed up in the leaked customer files of adultery website Ashley Madison.
But uniformed two-timers can stand at ease. Service officials told The Daily Beast that the mere presence of an email address isn’t enough to investigate someone for adultery—which the military considers a crime—and there are no plans to launch a military-wide manhunt for cheating spouses.
“There is no crime in signing up for a website,” said Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman.
“We hold all personnel to the highest standards in using government resources,” said Commander William Marks, a Navy spokesman, “and if revealed government resources were improperly used, we will take appropriate action.”
The key word is “if.” Absent a credible allegation that a service member engaged in an adulterous relationship, an email address alone won’t trigger an investigation.
One official, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak candidly about military proceedings, said going down the list of would-be cheaters who (however stupidly) used their military email addresses to open Ashley Madison accounts would amount to “a witch hunt.”
It could also be time-consuming. More than 10,000 .mil email addresses are alleged to have been found in the Ashley Madison files, according to data published online after hackers who’d earlier breached the site’s security made good on threats to out its clientele.
A Marine Corps spokesperson said officials were “aware” of the leak of some 800 of their members’ email addresses online and that the Corps was investigating “to ensure continuity of operations, security standards compliance, and appropriate use of government resources.” But there was no mention of compliance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s prohibition on adulterous relationships.
Adultery is considered a criminal offense only when certain “elements” are present in a case. Among them, a service member must have had sexual intercourse with another person while married, Christopher Kenny, a lawyer with the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, explained in an article for Military.com.
Simply signing up for Ashley Madison is, of course, no proof that anyone had sex. Furthermore, under military law, prosecutors also would have to show that the adulterous relationship “was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces,” Kenny said.
Military officials weren’t blasé on that front.
“We don’t condone behavior or activity that is not consistent with Air Force core values,” said spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Karns.
Carter likewise said that any hint of adultery was “an issue because conduct is very important. And we expect good conduct on the part of our people.”
Still, the only infraction for which service members might conceivably be disciplined is misuse of a government computer system.
While the leak immediately raised concerns that service members or civilian military employees could be blackmailed by foreign governments, the Ashley Madison incident attracted no urgency from lawmakers equal to the hack of the Office of Personnel Management, in which more than 22 million current and former employees’ personal information was pilfered, probably by hackers in China.
Maybe lawmakers were so hush-hush because congressmen and senators don’t see the leak as a security risk. But notably, a handful of house.gov and senate.gov domains also showed up in Ashley Madison’s records.
Like the military, congressional officials apparently have no plans to get to the bottom of the Ashley Madison scandal. Indeed, a spokesperson for the Senate Sergeant at Arms said it’s not even clear that Senate employees were responsible for the few Senate addresses in the leaked files.
“At this time, there is no validation that email addresses released in the Ashley Madison data leak were actually submitted by anyone associated with the accounts,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast. An email address tied to Sen. Ted Cruz’s office was reportedly the generic account for his press team and may have been logged with the site as a joke by someone not on Cruz’s staff.
A spokesperson for the House Sergeant at Arms didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Military officials also said they can’t be sure that a service member personally registered his or her email address with Ashley Madison.
So, America’s philandering warriors, have no fear. You will live to cheat another day.