The Marine Nude-Photo Scandal Is Growing and Adding New Victims
Despite investigations, a secretive group keeps sharing explicit photos, including those of a woman who thought her nightmare was over.
A female Marine reservist is the newest victim of an ongoing effort by current and former Marines to share nude photos of fellow servicemembers without their consent.
A Facebook group called Marines United 3.0, taking its name from the original Facebook group shut down in January for sharing nude photos, continues to flout the Marine Corps and Congress by circulating photos, including at least one new cache. The group has resorted to extreme vetting of members—including a demand that aspirants post a nude photo—to prevent infiltration, according to a source within the group.
“This is not what normal people do to each other,” the female Marine reservist, identified here as Kim to protect her privacy, said. The men sharing the pictures and videos “must have some need for vengeance toward somebody. I mean, why is this fun? What makes this so fun? If you want to see naked people, go to porn sites. I don’t understand the logic behind it. It’s to the point now that I’m just numb.”
Kim said photos she had taken for her civilian boyfriend were stolen in 2014 and later showed up on a now-defunct website, but soon afterward, she was notified by a fellow Marine that her nude photos were on a Twitter page.
“It seems like they disappear and they come back every six months,” Kim said. “I would get random text messages at work and they’d send me my own pictures, and I would break down… I don’t know what I can do. They’re out there, these same three-to-five pictures. I hate it.”
Like many of the photos posted and shared in the Facebook groups and drives, Kim’s photos have been circulating for years, and now they have appeared on the original Dropbox drive shared on Marines United, as well as the newly constructed Google Drive set up Thursday on Marines United 3.0. Each new share makes her feel helpless and disappointed in her fellow Marines.
“This is not why I joined the Marine Corps,” Kim said. “It’s not the same now. I don’t know who’s seen my pictures and who hasn’t, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Former Marine Lance Cpl. Cody Fielder has no regrets about creating the shared drive where Kim’s nude photos were uploaded last weekend.
“This is the new public drive as promised,” Fielder wrote Thursday on the private Marines United 3.0 group page, just before he posted a link to the new shared drive. “Keep it organized and post only the nastiest shit. Nothing illegal (underage), is all I ask.”
Despite that Facebook comment, Fielder told The Daily Beast that he is not responsible for what’s in the shared drive.
“I put it up there for members to put in there whatever they wanted,” Fielder said. “I don’t regulate [the shared drive] and I don’t go in it because I don’t really have the time. It took me a week just to make it, but whatever is on there is just what the Marines posted in there.
“Do I think that people should be sharing what they’re sharing?” he said later. “That’s not for me to decide.”
The Daily Beast reviewed the shared drive and found that many, though not all, of the explicit photographs were the same ones discovered in other shared drives created by the now defunct Marines United 2.0 and the 30,000-member Marines United.
The shared drive has four subfolders, two of them containing explicit photographs. One folder is titled “Wooks,” a derogatory term for female Marines derived from “Chewbacca.” The other subfolder is called “From Anon-IB” and contains hundreds of nude photos previously seen in other Marines United share drives. Business Insider reported that the AnonIB site contains nude photos of female service members from all four major military branches.
In total, The Daily Beast has uncovered six shared drives from secondary versions of Marines United, two of which contained hundreds of non-consensually obtained nude photos. A week after Sen. Angus King told Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, “You know that they are mocking you and the leadership,” it’s clear that those efforts to humiliate the Marine Corps leadership are ongoing.
Fielder said there is a distinction between the legal and moral sides of the nude-photo-sharing.
“I mean, I don’t see a legal issue with it. I do think there’s a moral issue with it, but there’s a lot of difference between the law and your own moral code… If the law wants to get involved, show me the passage that says this is illegal.”
Fielder, as a reservist, is no longer subject to prosecution under the Uniform Military Code of Justice, according to former Marine Judge Advocate General Lt. Col. James W. Weirick. But a provision within Marine Corps policy states that Marines on individual ready reserve status must “maintain standards of conduct,” according to the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve website.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has identified at least 17 smaller, related groups that may have also participated in photo-sharing. The increased scrutiny has led servicemembers and veterans sharing photos to adopt new tactics and vetting procedures that make it harder for investigators, reporters, and victims to identify, penetrate, and shut down the groups.
Screenshots provided to The Daily Beast by a member of Marines United 3.0 show some of the new procedures introduced to stop leaks. The insider, who asked to be called “Andre” to protect his identity, explained how the vetting works.
“They are careful not to reveal the names of secret backup rooms,” Andre said. “You have to be invited into these new rooms. The administrators are slowing the entire membership process down in order to complete their vetting procedures.”
Marines United 3.0 reviews new members by having them answer a series of questions like, “Where did we [Marines] get the nickname Devil Dog?” and, “What is the name of every Marine Corps mascot?”
Andre says this vetting system is not very effective, as the answers can be easily Googled. But other groups also comb through a prospective member’s Facebook for signs of having served in the Marine Corps, or deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. Finally, new members are instructed to post a nude photo of a servicemember within 24 hours or be booted from the secret group.
“Posting the photograph is a part of the vetting for some of the other groups, like a gang asking you to kill someone,” Andre said. “They don’t trust you unless you make yourself culpable.”
Investigators with NCIS continue to collect evidence from the now-defunct Facebook group that once had over 30,000 members.
All four branches of the military have sent out social-media behavior guidelines to their personnel since Neller’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 14. For active-duty military, non-consensual nude-photo-sharing is considered illegal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military’s legal code. But the UCMJ does not directly apply to former Marines or other civilians.
Division Chief Chris Evans, a special agent with NCIS, told reporters Friday that of the 1,200 screen names identified from screenshots of the original Marines United Facebook group, NCIS identified 725 active-duty U.S. Marines, 125 U.S. Marine reservists, 15 U.S. Navy Sailors, and 310 non-military personnel, which includes veterans.
Not all of those identified were directly involved in the photo-sharing. Neller told the Senate Armed Service Committee he suspected that about 500 of the 30,000 members actually participated in nude-photo-sharing. Neller will appear Tuesday afternoon before the House Armed Services Committee, where he is expected to update those numbers and brief the committee on the status of the Marines United investigation, more than two weeks after the scandal broke.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who in February was appointed the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee, has introduced the Servicemembers Intimate Privacy Protection Act, or SIPPA, which would prohibit the sharing of “intimate” images without the consent of the individual or individuals depicted.
Speier intends the bill to close a revenge-porn gap in the UCMJ. Neller told senators a week ago that certain changes to the UCMJ might be necessary to address the issues of revenge porn and nude-photo-sharing.
Evans seconded those recommendations, adding that in the future, all Marines will have to sign a contract about behavior on social media. He hopes to encourage more victims of the scandal to come forward by identifying the gaps in policies and resources that can discourage them from reporting abuse. He added that the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps will lead a new 30-plus-person investigative task force that is far more diverse than the 92-percent-male Marine Corps: 40 percent of the operational team is female, with ranks ranging from sergeant to lieutenant colonel.
Every major military investigative service is now engaged in the investigation. NCIS, the Army Criminal Investigative Division, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the Coast Guard Investigative Service are working together in a room at Headquarters Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia, Evans said, adding that he expects the number of potential victims and “persons of interest” in the case to grow.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s training academy is also in Quantico, but the bureau would not comment on whether or not it is investigating Marines United and related groups.