A private Facebook group called "Marines United" contained a link to a Google Drive folder, where the photos were being stored, a U.S. defense official told CNN. Members on the site solicited others to submit photos of women without their knowledge. The cloud storage folder has been removed at the request of the military, the official said.
It was not clear to the Defense Department how many Marines may be involved in potential wrongdoing. A former Marine originally brought the matter to the attention of the Marine Corps last month.
"We are thankful that Thomas Brennan, a Marine veteran, notified the Marine Corps and NCIS about what he witnessed on the 'Marines United' page. It allowed us to take immediate action to have the explicit photos taken down and to prepare to support potential victims. We are exploring what actions should be taken to best address this form of harassment in the future," Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Ryan Alvis said in a statement.
Brennan founded The War Horse, a military news site investigating defense and veterans issues, which first reported the allegations on a separate site, Reveal, run by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Because of the ongoing investigation, officials would not comment specifically on the case. However, Alvis added that "the Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website. This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual."
Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, also declined to comment on the specifics of the case. "For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect," Neller said. "I expect every Marine to demonstrate the highest integrity and loyalty to fellow Marines at all times, on duty, off-duty, and online."
Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, the Corps' highest-ranking noncommissioned officer, said these allegations go against the core values of the Marine Corps. "There is no place for this type of demeaning or degrading behavior in our Corps -- this includes our actions online," Green said. "We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and each other. This behavior hurts fellow Marines, family members, and civilians. It is a direct attack on our ethos and legacy."
"Ultimately we must take a look in the mirror and decide whether we are part of the problem or the solution," Green said.