The US Marines nude-photo saga

The US Marines nude-photo saga

You might or might not have heard about the so called US Marines nude-photo scandal. Most probably not, I’ve also learned about it just a few days back. It’s one of those weird and silly stories that are usually filling our tabloids on a daily basis.

Since it is a slow Easter weekend, I thought to have a closer look.

It all began back in January 2017. Investigative journalist and former Marine sergeant Thomas James Brennan informed the Marine Office of Marine Corps Public Affairs department of his intent to publish a story exposing a closed Facebook group of 30K members, named Marines United, where members solicited for explicit photos of female service members. Subsequently, the images were posted to a Google Drive, the link provided to members of the closed Facebook community. Some women depicted on the Google Drive are identified as Marines, some by name, rank and duty station. The Google Drive was maintained by a former Marine. Within a day of Brennan contacting Marine Corps headquarters social media accounts behind the sharing had been deleted by Facebook and Google at the Corps’ request, and a formal investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has been launched.

After the revelation, several members of the Facebook group lashed out at Brennan, making threats against him and his family. One suggested Brennan should be waterboarded, a cruel and controversial technique used for a time by American military and intelligence operatives while interrogating suspected terrorists.

After the shutdown of the original Facebook group, Marines United has morphed into “Marines United 2.0” or “MU2.0” and continued uploading naked photos of female Marines and spreading them around. Along with Facebook, they are also using a DropBox page and posting videos to PornHub.

Early March Marines United 2.0 was shut down, and “Marines United 3.0” (aka “MU 3.0”) has appeared on Facebook.

Members who run Marines United are also emboldened by the fact that there’s no written law that can implicate them criminally, as pointed out by former Marine Lance Cpl. Cody Fielder, an administrator of the Marines United 3.0 group.

“I don’t see a legal issue with it,” Fielder said. “I do think there’s a moral issue with it, but there’s a lot of difference between the law and your own moral code. If the law wants to get involved, show me the passage that says this is illegal.”

Despite that Facebook comment, Fielder told The Daily Beast that he is not responsible for what’s in the shared drive.

“I put it up there for members to put in there whatever they wanted,” Fielder said. “I don’t regulate [the shared drive] and I don’t go in it because I don’t really have the time. It took me a week just to make it, but whatever is on there is just what the Marines posted in there.”

Fielder’s post to Marines United 3.0 on March 23

“Do I think that people should be sharing what they’re sharing?” he said later. “That’s not for me to decide.”

Since then “Marines United 3.0” has been shut down by Facebook as well, but it is reported that many “Marines United” offsprings continue to operate on social media and photos still being shared.

It should also be noted that most photos appear to have originated from the consensual, but private, exchange of racy images, some clearly taken by the women themselves.

And what has all this to do with the dark web, you might ask – and you have a valid point. I’ll tell you in a moment, lets first see what Secretary Mattis has to say.

C’mon James, don’t be holier than the pope. Remember once you were young and full of energy as well — though I agree, that was a long time ago.

On April 12, the Daily Beast revealed “Marines United Nude Photos Are for Sale on the Dark Web” (The corner of the internet where everything from drugs to murder is sold is now hosting explicit images of U.S. servicewomen. It may be impossible to catch who’s behind it.).

Well Daily Best, that sounds more like our expertise, so let’s see what we can find out.

“As the reporting continues into the nude-photo scandal plaguing the Pentagon, the Daily Beast has learned that some of the Marines United descendant groups are not connected to the U.S. military at all, but are copycat groups set up by foreign nationals to profit from the original group’s notoriety. On the private Facebook group Marines United 214, requests for nude photographs are met with demands for payment and links to the dark-web marketplace AlphaBay, where the photo-sets are listed for sale.”

Really? Let’s see.

“Screenshots provided to the Daily Beast by a member of Marines United 214 (obviously another offspring of the original Marines United), who asked to be called “Andre” to protect his identity, show that some members of the group are attempting to profit from the controversy surrounding Marines United. (The advertisements on AlphaBay for nude photos of military members was first reported by the Military Times.)”

Oh, so it is not your story anymore, it is the story of the Military Times now — ok then let’s have a look there.

Their headline:

Russians may now control the trove of photos showing naked U.S. troops

They continue and I quote, “Scores of photos showing American military personnel naked and having sex appear to be for sale in an online criminal marketplace run out of Russia, Military Times has learned.”

And, “It’s a startling development in the ongoing scandal that has shaken the Pentagon and infuriated Congress, raising serious questions about the extent to which these photos — purportedly numbering in the thousands — could be exploited by foreign governments, or other entities seeking to influence or undermine the United States. Many military personnel hold security clearances that afford them access to classified or otherwise secretive information. The existence of compromising material — known in Russian as “kompromat” — could make them vulnerable to blackmail, now or in the future.”

My question, can we really consider photos showing Marines and other American military personnel naked and having sex that are already in the public domain for months, as compromising material that could make them vulnerable to blackmail? – You may answer this question!

However, lets have a look at the screen grab from the Facebook group Marines United (214), as posted on the Military Times and the Daily Beast:

What we see here is a listing, that looks very much like an AlphaBay listing:

Let’s have a closer look: A vendor with the name “Mr_214” is selling “Item #232010”, labeled as “Marines United Nudes (214) / Naughty America: Marine United Babes (214) / Reality Kings: Marine United Black Bitches (214)”

But is it for real?

Let’s check over at AlphaBay.

We start with the vendor, Mr_214. A quick search is showing us that vendor Mr_214 does not exist on AlpaBay.

Let’s have a look at the “Item #232010” and here we got a match:

But the good Professor is not selling any photos of Marines or other American military personnel naked or having sex at all. All he is selling are “Lifetime PREMIUM Brazzers/Naughty America/Reality Kings Accounts”.

Last account activity related to “Item #232010” was in mid February. I also like to stress that both vendor ID’s and item ID’s are unique on AlphaBay, which was confirmed earlier today by the AlphaBay support staff.

It appears that both the Military Times and the Daily Beast fell victim to a Facebook hoax, which could have been avoided with some research. President Trump would call both of you “Faked News”!

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