The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed confidence Thursday in the Marines’ ability to tackle a nude photo sharing scandal after receiving a closed briefing, even as he acknowledged the military as a whole has yet to fully grasp the gravity of the issue.
“I am not fully convinced that the Marines or the other services have fully got a handle on this matter. I admit, it’s a challenging, daunting issue,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters. “It’s clear to me that Gen. [Robert] Neller is willing to own the problem and solve the problem, as is Sgt. Maj. [Ronald] Green, and I think I can say the same about our committee.”
At issue is an NCIS investigation into “Marines United,” a 30,000-member Facebook page where Marines allegedly shared nude photos and personal information of female Marines and veterans. Some photos were allegedly taken and posted without the women’s knowledge or were meant to remain private. Comments on the page reportedly included rape threats.
The committee received a closed briefing Thursday on the investigation from the Commandant of the Marines Neller, Green, acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley, military lawyers and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
Thornberry said there are no plans for Neller to testify publicly before House the committee, saying he thought that would be redundant after Neller’s public testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week.
One of the reasons the military has not been able to fully grasp the issue, Thornberry said, is because it’s hard to investigate crimes on social media.
“Just think for a second about all the controversy we’ve had about privacy of emails and web serving and all of that sort of stuff. Well, there are limits to what the government can do in even an investigation,” he said.
It’s also hard to change behavior on social media, he added.
“The challenge of raising our service members to a higher level than is happening around us in our culture, that gets to be a complicated thing,” he said. “Just think about it outside the course of the military. Changing people’s social media habits is hard. Understanding their social media habits is hard.”
But Thornberry also acknowledged the problem in the military goes beyond social media.
“It’s a deeper cultural issue that could lead to such behavior on social media,” he said. “There’s no question.”
Thornberry also said he’s reserving judgment on whether the Uniform Code of Military Justice needs to be changed to better address the behavior until the investigation is complete.
“Is there are gap somewhere? If there is, I suspect people will want to close it,” he said. “I don’t know for sure.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the committee, introduced a bill Thursday that would close what many say is a loophole in the code that could allow some Marines involved in the scandal to go unpunished. The code prohibits taking nude photos without consent, but does not address distributing photos without permission if those photos were originally taken with consent.