WARNING: A blurred, but seemingly explicit photo from the Facebook group in question is shown in the article below.
SAN DIEGO (AP/CBS 8) - The Defense Department is investigating reports that some Marines shared naked photographs of female Marines, veterans and other women on a secret Facebook page, some of which were taken without their knowledge.
The photographs were shared on the Facebook page "Marines United," which had a membership of active-duty and retired male Marines, Navy Corpsman and British Royal Marines. Along with identified female military members were photographs of unidentifiable women in various stages of undress, and included obscene comments about some of the women, officials said.
It's not clear if those in the pictures knew they were being photographed.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is now investigating. The photographs have been taken down, officials said.
Marine Corps Commandant, General Robert Neller, declined to discuss this specific investigation, but tells CBS News 8 in a statement:
For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect. The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect.
It was not immediately known how many active-duty Marines and other service members were involved or are under investigation. A Marine Corps official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss personnel matters by name, said at least one government contractor had been removed from his job after he posted a link to the photographs.
The investigation was first reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The activity was revealed by The War Horse, a nonprofit news organization run by Marine veteran Thomas Brennan.
"We are thankful that Thomas Brennan, a Marine veteran, notified the Marine Corps and NCIS about what he witnessed on the 'Marines United' page," Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Ryan E. Alvis said. "It allowed us to take immediate action to have the explicit photos taken down and to prepare to support potential victims."
The CIR report said that more than two dozen active-duty women, officers and enlisted, were identified by their rank, full name and location in the photographs on the Facebook page. Other photographs of active duty and veteran women were also posted and linked through a Google Drive link.
An internal Marine Corps document obtained by The Associated Press says a former Marine maintained the Google Drive and that it had a following of 30,000. The NCIS investigation is "in support of two individuals affected by postings," according to the document.
This is hardly the first time the Marine Corps found itself under investigation for social media practices.
Back in 2013, Bay Area Congresswoman Jackie Speier on the House Armed Services Committee notified the Marines about online bullying of female Marines.
Speier tells CBS News 8:
I am appalled to learn of the reprehensible conduct by current and former Marines. Military leaders have been aware of online bullying of female Marines since 2013, when I notified them of a denigrating Facebook page that encouraged sexual assault and abuse. I am deeply troubled to learn that nothing has changed.
The fact that the reporter and Marine veteran Thomas Brennan who has brought this story to light has received death threats and the fact that his wife has received rape threats underscores the vileness of the perpetrators. No one who organized, contributed to or commented on the site should be serving in our military,
Speier also said called on the Secretary of Defense, the Acting Secretary of the Navy, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to do "everything in their power to provide whatever support is required to the victims of these heinous crimes and to hold accountable those responsible under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
It's something the Marine Corps acknowledged with Sgt. Major Ronald Green telling News 8:
As Marines, as human beings, you should be angry for the actions of a few. These negative behaviors are absolutely contrary to what we represent. It breaks the bond that hold us together; without trust, our family falters.
We must do a better job of teaching Marines what we expect of them in the social media realm. I expect all Marines to treat one another with dignity and respect, whether it be in public, behind closed doors or online."
A Marine proven to have posted an explicit photo of another person could potentially be charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the internal Marine Corps document asserted. A Marine who directly participates in, encourages or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions, according to the document.
Service members and civilians can report a crime or pass information on Marines United to NCIS via the web, or the NCIS smart phone app.
One of thousands of images once shared on a now-closed Facebook group