The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has identified hundreds of Marines who are members of the Marines United Facebook group, where some members allegedly shared nude photos of female troops, veterans and civilians, a Democratic House lawmaker said on Thursday.
NCIS is investigating whether Marines shared the nude photos without the women's consent and harassed them online. So far, investigators have 1,200 members of Marines United, including 700 active-duty Marines and 150 Marines in the Reserve, Rep. Jackie Speier, of California, said at a news conference.
About 500 of Marines United's roughly 30,000 members are believed to have viewed the nude photographs, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told senators on Tuesday.
Neller said he did not know what motivated Marines to cyberbully the women whose pictures were shared.
"I've heard it described as the dark humor of veterans, but that's a cop-out," Neller said. "But we also know that there are Marines that are participating in this, who have never been shot at in their lives. So they're just trying to get credibility — I don't know."
There is one major legal issue prosecutors may face: If the pictures shared online were originally taken consensually, the strictest penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice may not apply to Marines who shared them without permission.
That's why Speier has proposed a bill that would allow service members to be prosecuted for sharing revealing pictures that "a reasonable person would know or understand" are intended to remain private without permission of the people depicted in the pictures.
"Clearly the antiquated language of the UCMJ must be fixed to address this national scandal and to restore the reputations of not only our brave service members, but the Marine Corps itself," Speier said at Thursday's news conference.
Gloria Allred, an attorney who represents two women whose pictures were shared on Marines United praised Speier's proposed bill and said Congress needs to take further action.
"The House Armed Services community needs to conduct a hearing as soon as possible to hear from the female victims of Marine United and other web pages," Allred said at the news conference. "Both the Senate and the House have asked General Neller to testify, but we need Congress to hear from the victims of this scandal. Their voices need to be heard. I represent a number of those victims but none have been invited to testify."