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Top Marine Testifies Before Congress On Nude-Photo Scandal


The Pentagon is grappling with another scandal involving women in the military. Current and former male service members have been sharing explicit photos of their female colleagues with an online group that has tens of thousands of members. Military leaders have strongly condemned what's happened, and the Defense Department is still trying to get to the bottom of it. To talk more about this, we're joined by NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hi, Tom.


SHAPIRO: Briefly outline the scope of this scandal. What's been going on exactly?

BOWMAN: Well, this all surrounds a private Facebook page called Marines United. It had some 30,000 members, both active duty and retired Marines. And there were many pictures posted of female Marines, some of them nude, some of them partially clothed, and other pictures of Marine women in uniform with disparaging comments about women being in the Marine Corps. Some of the photos included detailed information, Ari - their names and units, for example. And some of the women have been subject to harassment.

That Facebook group is now gone, but from what we understand, the photos are still online in another private group, a group that's also taunting Marine leadership as they try to deal with all of this.

SHAPIRO: And how long has this been going on?

BOWMAN: Well, it appears it's been going on for years. The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing about this with Marine leaders today. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand showed a letter from another member of Congress that talked about this problem in 2013, and it included screenshots back then. Gillibrand has been an outspoken critic of the way the Pentagon has handled sexual harassment and assault. Listen to what she said.


KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: It is a serious problem when we have members of our military denigrating female Marines who will give their life to this country in the way they have with no response from leadership. I can tell you your answers today are unsatisfactory.

SHAPIRO: What were those answers, Tom?

BOWMAN: Well, the Marines say they're still trying to deal with it. But Senator Gillibrand and others say, you're too slow to respond. The Marines have talked about a subculture within the Corps which has prided itself on being the most macho and traditional. There is some who are having trouble accepting women who recently began going into ground combat jobs.

Now, two years ago, Ari, to get ready for women in ground combat, all the Marines had mandatory training on, quote, "unconscious prejudice" to help deal with any cultural resistance. The Marine commandant, General Bob Neller, told senators today he doesn't know if there's a connection between not accepting women and posting nude photos. What he did say was this. We have to change the way we see each other as Marines. But it's not just the Marines. Officials say they're seeing and investigating similar websites involving the other services.

SHAPIRO: Tom, if this has been going on for years and involves tens of thousands of people, including people who might not even be in the military anymore, what's the likelihood that everybody responsible will be punished?

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know yet. For the military members, they're saying they could face court martial or lesser punishments such as loss of rank or pay. But it may be difficult just finding them. Now, for those no longer in the service, that appears to be uncertain, perhaps depending on the state they're from. There are laws, for example, about taking revenge on someone by posting photos online.

SHAPIRO: Could this have any kind of a larger impact on the effort to integrate women into combat positions?

BOWMAN: You know, I don't think so. There's no indication it's been slowed at all. There are women in the Army and the Marines now going into artillery and armor jobs. And the first few women Marines are heading into infantry jobs down at Camp Lejeune, N.C. And that's where General Neller, the Marine commandant, is headed to talk with all Marines about proper behavior for women and all members of the Marine Corps.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Bowman speaking with us from the Pentagon about today's hearing into the photo sharing scandal involving female Marines. Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.