Service members alleged to have posted nude photos of their female colleagues on social media committed an “egregious violation” against the department’s values, the defense secretary, James Mattis, said on Friday.
Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, Mattis condemned what he called “unacceptable” behavior, as the department opened an investigation into the secret Facebook page Marines United, on which current and former marines shared images of their female colleagues, veterans and other women.
The investigation has spread across all branches of the military, according to reports.
“Lack of respect for the dignity and humanity of fellow members of the Department of Defense is unacceptable and counter to unit cohesion,” Mattis said in a statement released on Friday. “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.”
Mattis’s statement hinted that the scandal could go beyond the Marines, condemning actions “associated with the Marines United group and possibly others”.
In statements, the air force and navy said they were looking into reports they had been connected to similar scandals.
“It is a call to arms in the wake of recent reports of unprofessional and inappropriate social media behavior by some who have lost sight of that most fundamental purpose they themselves are duty-bound to serve,” the acting secretary of the navy, Sean Stackley, said. “Our ability to succeed as a warfighting organization is directly tied to our ability to fight as one team – a team that treats one another honorably.”
An air force spokesperson said: “After being made aware of the photo sharing site today by Business Insider, we are looking further into the matter and taking it seriously, but cannot immediately verify any details about the site, the source of its content, or whether there has been any involvement by any airmen.”
Army spokeswoman Lt Col Jennifer R Johnson said: “Soldiers or civilian employees who participate in or condone misconduct, whether offline or online, may be subject to criminal, disciplinary and/or administrative action.”
Nude images of female service members have reportedly been shared on other websites and Facebook pages. A former lance corporal told the Guardian this week that pictures of her in a bikini had been posted on three private Facebook pages similar to Marines United.
And Business Insider on Thursday revealed that the lewd image-sharing website, AnonIB, has a section devoted to images of alleged military personnel.
Gen Robert Neller of the Marine Corps said on Friday that the Marines United investigation must be done “carefully”. “We don’t want to be in a hurry. We want to make sure we’re thorough and we’re within the law,” Neller said at a press conference.
Thomas Brennan, founder of the nonprofit military news site, The War Horse, first reported Marines United to the Marines and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which is investigating the Facebook page.
More than 30,000 current and former marines followed the page, according to an internal Marine Corps document obtained by the Associated Press.