PENTAGON - A Facebook group consisting of thousands of U.S. Marines and Marine veterans has shared nude photographs of women, including fellow Marines, through social media, prompting the U.S. military to launch an investigation into the incident.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, told reporters Friday at the Pentagon that when female Marines are subjected to cyberbullying, presumably by other Marines, it "undermines everything" the military branch stands for, as it protects and serves the country.
"There is no honor in denigrating a fellow Marine in any way, shape or form," Neller said.
The general said fewer than 10 victims have come forward, but evidence provided by a reporter suggested that around 30 women have been victimized by the cyberbullying scandal.
Marine officials say they were informed about the Facebook site that is sharing the nude photos, known as the "Marines United" community page, on January 30. On February 1, the Marine Corps had the site taken down, but learned later about a link to Google Drive files that contained the nude photos. Some of the photos shared were taken without the women's knowledge.
Neller said an investigation into the incident by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is under way. In addition, Neller said the Marine Corps is setting up a task force to see what actions can be taken, and to come up with practices that both prevent this violation in the future and prevent the "subculture that gave rise to this."
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis released a statement Friday calling the "lack of respect for the dignity and humanity" of fellow military members "unacceptable and counter to unit cohesion."
"We will not excuse or tolerate such behavior if we are to uphold our values and maintain our ability to defeat the enemy on the battlefield," added Mattis, a former Marine general.
Neller told reporters he will testify on Capitol Hill about the incident next week. He also has planned to visit Camp Lejeune, in eastern North Carolina, one of the largest Marine bases on the U.S. East Coast.
Marine officials said they are working to ensure the victims' privacy is protected as the investigation continues. There are reports that some Marines have continued to share the nude photos, despite the ongoing investigation.