WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers were weighing their options Thursday as the number of identified members of the Facebook site Marines United grew to 1,200, including 700 active-duty and 150 Reserve Marines, according to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
Speier disclosed the figures from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after a closed-door briefing to the House Armed Services Committee by Marines Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on the service's unfolding photo-sharing scandal. Flanked by famed attorney Gloria Allred and a victim of the site, Speier also unveiled a bill criminalizing the nonconsensual posting of nude images.
"I am furious, I am saddened and I am frustrated by how we have got to this point," said Speier, who is the top Democrat on the Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel.
Others in Congress also expressed outrage and Neller recently suggested the service might need new legislation, such as changes to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
But key lawmakers briefed by the Marine Corps said it was too early to know whether any laws would be passed to help the service crackdown on the online activity targeting and harassing female Marines.
Both the House and Senate armed service committees have been privately briefed by Neller.
Speier said her bill would close a "massive gap" in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, which bars the dissemination of nonconsensual pornography but is not adequate to prosecute Marines United cases where women originally allowed photos to be taken but did not consent to have them shared.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the Armed Services Committee chairman, said he was not convinced the Marines or other services "fully have their arms around this problem yet" and the committee could consider including some new legislation addressing the Marines United case in the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress' annual military policy bill.
"It's obviously something we will look at but I don't know for sure the answer," Thornberry said. "Obviously the investigation is going on, we just had a briefing on it, so you need to understand what you're dealing with before you jump to a conclusion."
The top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said "all options are on the table" in dealing with the photo-sharing following other harassment and abuse cases in the Marines such as hazing at Parris Island, S.C.
That could include changes to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Smith said following the briefing with Neller.
"They are not making progress so we need to figure out how to make progress," he said.
On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said he was still uncertain about any future legislation following a closed briefing.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation earlier this month into the Marines United site, which had about 30,000 members and was used to post revealing and sometimes nude photos of the Marines, identifying information such as names and duty stations, and degrading and misogynistic comments.
Other sites have since sprung up in defiance of the ongoing investigation as well as a series of public condemnations from Neller and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Critics and lawmakers have pointed to an ingrained sexism and misogyny in the Marines, which is now integrating women into combat roles, and Neller has repeatedly vowed to change it during public appearances since the scandal broke.
"From my experiences in the military, there is a deeper cultural issue that needs to be addressed because you are not going to be able to police people 24/7," said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a retired Air Force colonel and a former A-10 pilot. "The long-term solution is this deeper cultural issue and that's where I'm going to be on them and all the services pretty aggressively."
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who served as a combat Marine in Iraq, said the culture problems trace back to the very beginning of service.
"I think what we need to focus on is changing the culture that starts at boot camp," Gallego said. "The first time out of their homes, the first time with any kind of male figure, and drill instructors are already talking derogatory about female Marines, [that] is where we start creating the problems."
Lt. Col. Eric Dent, Neller's spokesman, told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday that the service is reviewing recruit training and looking for ways to improve. The Marines also released new social media guidelines aimed at reining in harassing and abusive activity.
"It's critical, absolutely central to combat readiness that all Marines are treated with dignity and respect," Neller said in a released video. "We got a problem in our culture about the way we look at each other and the way we treat each other."
Very not cool..however, (and I am going to get hate for this) the individuals, who willingly had their pics taken have to bear some small degree of responsibility for this. What may sound like a good idea at the moment may come back to bite you in the ass later..