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In Marine Photo Scandal, Evidence Can Disappear Quickly

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents never personally visited a Facebook page allegedly used by the Marines to circulate photographs of nude and partially-clad female service members, or access to a Google drive filled with the images, the head of the investigation said.

Instead NCIS and Marine Corps officials are scraping together cases against hundreds of members of the Corps of the United” page, which allegedly distributed or comment on the images by the use of second-hand evidence — a treasure of about 600 screenshots of the page, and drive provided by a source.

In a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon Friday afternoon, NCIS Division Chief Curtis Evans pointed to the challenges of the prosecution of internet offenders as evidence can be removed in an instant and Facebook groups, close and re-open faster than the officials can identify them.

“In cyberspace, the evidence is there one minute; the next moment it’s gone,” Evans said. “This is a 24-7 thing for us.”

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Evans also clarified figures that have emerged in the past few days and caused some confusion.

In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said he had been informed that about 500 persons have been approached with a Google Drive-fully naked pictures and identifying information for female soldiers. That figure was provided to Neller by journalist and Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, which came in the disk drive before you change the permissions were withdrawn, and for the first time reported on the content, Brig. Gen. James Glynn, head of public affairs for the Headquarters marine Corps, told reporters.

Although the site had 30,000 members, according to Brennan, the report of the research is limited by what the screenshots show.

“None of us on the inside of the Marines, United,” Glynn said. “Thomas Brennan was. What he offered in the form of aid, where we are able to investigate, we have no other choice than to go with the numbers that he provided … this is what we have to work with. We don’t have 30,000 to work with.”

To date, Evans said, NCIS officials have made use of the screenshots to identify 725 active-duty Marines, 150 Marine reservists, 15 active-duty Navy personnel, and 310 non-military. While all members of the Marines, United, he said, it is not yet clear whether all participated in illegal or improper activities on the site.

“There is a limited amount of the recherche that we have started with criminal investigations,” he said.

To date, more than 20 self-identified victims of the unauthorised sharing of photos have come forward to NCIS and the marine Corps. A special NCIS hotline has received hundreds of calls. Evans urged anyone with evidence of the page’s activities to come forward and add to what so far seems to be incomplete evidence.

“We are specifically looking for people who had explicit photos taken without their consent and posted online,” he said.

The investigation, Evans said, is now extended to other groups and individuals not connected with the Marines of the United based on tips NCIS has received. The agency had also entered into a collaboration with the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, the Army Criminal Investigative Decision, Coast Guard Investigative Service and Marine Corps Criminal Investigative Division to go after all persons in uniform, is found to have participated in activities.

While the research is focused on non-desired photo spread, which is prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and in most states under the “revenge porn” laws, Evans said NCIS is turning over the evidence of Marines making demeaning and harassing comments about women in the Corps, so that the perpetrators can be dealt with administratively.

NCIS has multiple summons, requests to internet providers for more information, Evans said.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps plans to conduct focus groups around the Marine Corps in the coming weeks to address cultural problems at the root of the misogynistic internet behavior, Glynn said. The Corps also plans to the requirement that the Navy to sign a form verifying that they have read and understand the Corps’ new social media policy, which expressly forbids cyber-bullying and harassment, and spells out legal sanctions in the framework of the UCMJ.

During this step could not prevent the Marines from the act wrongly on social media, Glynn says, will reduce the Marine Corps’ burden of proof to demonstrate that the Navy understood the rules, if he or she is confronted with disciplinary measures.

— Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter via @HopeSeck.

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