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The Marine Corps' nude-photo-sharing scandal is even worse than first realized

March 10,2017 10:07

The scandal that prompted an investigation into hundreds of Marines who are accused of sharing naked photographs of their colleagues in a private Facebook group is much larger than has been reported, Business Insider has learned. The practice of ...



Sgt. Tyler Main/U.S. Marine
Corps

The scandal that prompted an investigation into hundreds of
Marines who are accused of sharing naked photographs of their
colleagues in a private Facebook group is much larger than has
been reported, Business Insider has learned.

The practice of sharing such photos goes beyond the Marine Corps
and one Facebook group. Hundreds of nude photos of female service
members from every military branch have been posted to an
image-sharing message board that dates back to at least May. A
source informed Business Insider of the site's existence on
Tuesday.

The site, called AnonIB, has a dedicated board for military
personnel that features dozens of threaded conversations among
men, many of whom ask for "wins" — naked photographs — of
specific female service members, often identifying the women by
name or where they are stationed.

The revelation comes on the heels of an explosive story published
on Saturday by the journalist Thomas Brennan. He reported on a
Facebook group called Marines United, which was home to
approximately 30,000 members who were sharing nude photos of
colleagues along with personal information and even encouragement
of sexual assault.

The report led the Marine Corps to open an investigation, spurred
widespread outrage in the media and in Congress, and
prompted sharp condemnation from the Corps' top leaders.
According to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service,
investigators are considering felony charges that could
carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

An official familiar with the matter told Business Insider that
the Marine commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, would brief members of
the House Armed Services Committee next week on the scandal.

"We're examining some of our policies to see if we can make them
punitive in nature," the official said, adding that the Corps was
taking the issue very seriously.

A Facebook-group exodus leads to a message board's popularity

Gen.
Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps. He is expected to
brief Congress next week on the scandal.
US Marine Corps/Cpl. Shawn Valosin

Brennan's story also led to an apparent exodus of members from
the private Facebook group, though some appeared to have found
the publicly viewable message board soon after — with the express
intent of finding the cache of nude images that Marines in the
Facebook group were sharing.

"Come on Marines share the wealth here before that site is nuked
and all is lost," one anonymous user said in a post on Monday,
two days after Brennan's story was published. Follow-up replies
offered a link to a Dropbox folder named "Girls of MU" with
thousands of photographs.

Dropbox did not respond to a request for comment.

Members on the board often posted photos — seemingly stolen from
female service members' Instagram accounts — before asking others
if they had nude pictures of a female service member.

For example, after posting the first name and photograph of a
female soldier in uniform on January 21, one board member asked
for "Army chick went to [redacted], ig is [redacted]." Another
user, apparently frustrated that no pictures had yet been found,
posted a few days later: "BUMP. Let's see them t------."

On another thread, a member posted a photograph on May 30 of a
female service member with her breasts exposed and said, "She is
in the navy down in san diego, anyone have any more wins?"

US
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M.
Castellano

One user followed up on June 13, offering another nude photo of
the woman.

"Keep them coming! She's got them floating around someone [sic]
and I've wanted to see this for a while," another user wrote in
response.

Some requested nude photographs by unit or location.

One user asked in September for photos of women in the
Massachusetts National Guard, while another requested some from
the Guard in Michigan. Other requests included nude pictures of
any women stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Bragg in North
Carolina, McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, or Naval Medical
Center in San Diego, along with many more US military
installations around the world.

In statements to Business Insider, military branches denounced
the message board and promised discipline for any service members
who engaged in misconduct.

"This alleged behavior is inconsistent with our values," Lt. Col.
Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, told
Business Insider.

Capt. Ryan Alvis, a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps, told
Business Insider that the service expects the discovery of the
Marines United page will motivate others to come forward to
report other pages like it.

"Marines will attack this problem head-on and continue to get
better," Alvis said.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Army, told
Business Insider: "The Army is a values-based organization where
everyone is expected to be treated with dignity and respect. As
members of the Army team, individuals' interaction offline and
online reflect on the Army and its values. Soldiers or civilian
employees who participate in or condone misconduct, whether
offline or online, may be subject to criminal, disciplinary,
and/or administrative action."

Air Force spokesman Zachary Anderson told Business Insider: "We
expect our Airmen to adhere to these values at all times and to
treat their fellow service members with the highest degree of
dignity and respect. Any conduct or participation in activities,
whether online or offline, that does not adhere to these
principles will not be tolerated. Airmen or civilian employees
who engage in activities of misconduct that demean or disrespect
fellow service members will be appropriately disciplined."

The Navy did not respond to a request for comment.

'Hope we can find more on this gem'

The image board hosts disturbing conversations that in many cases
appear to be between active-duty personnel.

"Any wins of [redacted]?" read one request, which shared further
details about a female Marine's whereabouts, indicating the user
likely worked with her in the past.

Another thread, posted in November, that had dozens of follow-up
comments from users acting as cyber-sleuths to track down the
victim started with a single photograph of a female Marine, fully
clothed, taken from her Instagram account.

"Any wins?" that user asked, telling others the Marine's first
name and where she had been stationed.

One user hinted at her last name as others scoured her Instagram
account, posting more photos they had found. One photo of the
victim and her friend prompted one user to ask for nude photos of
the friend as well: "Any of the dark haired girl in the green
shirt and jeans next to her?"

Thomson
Reuters

The thread carried on for months.

"Amazing thread," one user wrote. "Hope we can find more on this
gem."

In December, a nude photo was finally posted. "Dudeee more," one
user wrote in response. Many others responded by "bumping" the
thread to the top so that others on the board would see it and
potentially post more photos. Indeed, more photos soon appeared
from the victim's Instagram account, which was apparently made
private or shut down numerous times.

On the board, users complained that her Instagram account kept
disappearing, apparently because she was trying to thwart her
harassers. But others quickly found her new accounts and told
others, and the new Instagram account names were shared
throughout February.

"Oh god please someone have that p----," one user wrote.

Screenshot

The site that hosts the message board seems to have little
moderation and few rules, though it tells users "Don't be evil."
Its rules instruct members to not post personal details such as
addresses, telephone numbers, links to social networks, or last
names.

Still, many users on the board do not appear to follow those
rules.

In one popular thread, started on January 9, an anonymous user
posted non-nude pictures of a female airman, telling others in
the caption: "Anyone know her or have anything else on her? I've
got a lot more if there is interest. Would love for her friends
and family to see these."

The user, who suggested in the accompanying captions that he was
a jilted ex-boyfriend, posted many more photos in the hours and
days after.

"She knows how to end it all. If she does get in contact with me
I won't post anymore. So get it while it's hot!" he wrote.

Later in the thread, the man even referred to the airman by name
and told her to check her Instagram messages.

AP/John L. Mone

"Wow, she blocked me on Instagram!" he later wrote. "Stupid c---
must want me to post her s--- up. I gave her a choice, it didn't
have to be this way. I'm not a bad guy, she had a choice. Oh
well, no point in holding back now. I want you all to share this
everywhere you can, once I start seeing her more places I'll post
her video."

Aside from those on active duty, some users who identified
themselves as cadets at some military service academies started
threads to try to find nude photos of their female classmates.

In a thread dedicated to the US Military Academy at West Point,
some users who appeared to be cadets shared photos and graduation
years of their female classmates.

"What about the basketball locker room pics, I know someone has
those," one user said, apparently referring to photos taken
surreptitiously in a women's locker room. "I always wondered
whether those made it out of the academy computer system,"
another user responded.

In 2012, an Army sergeant who helped train and mentor cadets was
discovered to have secretly filmed more than a dozen women
in the bathroom and shower areas at West
Point. The soldier pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced
in 2014 to 33 months in prison.

US
Marine Corps photo

"Bumping all 3 service academies' threads to see who can post the
best wins in the next 7 days. Winning school gets the
[commander's cup]," one user wrote. "Go Army, Beat Everyone."

Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker, a spokesman for the US Military
Academy, told Business Insider: "The content on this image
board or other websites, attributed to both West Point graduates
and our fellow service members, is both alarming and contrary to
our values. When alerted to incidents such as this, we thoroughly
investigate and take appropriate action."

'This has to be treated harshly'

The existence of a site dedicated solely to sharing nude
photographs of female service members is another black mark for
the Pentagon, which has been criticized in the past for failing
to deal with rampant sexual harassment and abuse within the
ranks.

A 2014 Rand Corporation study estimated that more than 20,000 service
members had been sexually assaulted in the previous year. Nearly
six times as many reported being sexually harassed. In some
cases, the military has pushed out victims of sexual assault who reported it,
instead of the perpetrators.

"I'm kind of surprised. I'm still naive, I think, on some level,"
said Kate Hendricks Thomas, a former Marine Corps officer who is
now an assistant professor at Charleston Southern University. "I
am really disappointed to hear that the reach is broader than
30,000 and a couple of now-defunct websites."

Thomas criticized past responses to the problem, in which some
had indicated the issue was too difficult for the military to
wrap its arms around.

"This renders us less mission-effective. It's got to be a
priority," she said.

"These websites are not boys being boys," she added. "This is a
symptom of rape culture."

The message board also presents a challenge for military leaders,
who may face an uphill battle in trying to find — and potentially
prosecute — active-duty service members who shared photos on the
site. Unlike the Marines United Facebook group, where many users
posted under their real names, the message board's user base is
mostly anonymous, and the site itself is registered in the
Bahamas, outside the jurisdiction of US law enforcement.

Brad Moss, a lawyer who specializes in national-security issues,
told Business Insider that the military may have a hard time
persuading the internet service provider to shut down the
website. Instead, he said, the victims themselves may have more
legal standing if they were to contact the ISP to remove the
photos.

Still, Moss said he believes the military could squash the
behavior if it adopted a "zero-tolerance" posture.

"I think that absolutely, 100%, should be the policy if they
catch the main perpetrators who are sharing these photos around
and essentially engaging in revenge porn," Moss said. "They
should have a zero-tolerance policy and boot them from the
military with a dishonorable discharge.

"If they do anything less, it's only going to incentivize this
behavior in the future," he added. "This has to be treated
harshly."

This article was updated on 3/10 at 6:40 a.m. PDT to add a
statement from the US Military Academy.

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