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Marines ask if Cyber Command could help online harassment issues

Thu 9 Mar 2017

A representative from the Marine Corps has posed the question as to whether U.S. Cyber Command, tasked with the online defence of the United States, could or should become involved in incidents such as the scandal over male marines sharing online nude photos of their female colleagues.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green – enlisted adviser to the Marines’ commandant – posited that the service does not currently have adequate legal tools or frameworks to address what is perceived to be a widespread culture of harassment towards female Marines, both on and offline, and suggests that U.S. Cyber Command could at least be considered as a resource for prosecuting the problem.

“We have a cyber command,” Green commented. “If we had recognized this database, the question is, could our command have turned their assets and go into the world of private IP addresses and stuff like that on private American citizens?”

The U.S. Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command (MARFORCYBER) was created to protect critical infrastructure in the United States from cyber attacks, and in this respect has powers and remits which are likely to exceed those of conventional police or federal investigating authorities. Turning its considerable powers upon cases generally deemed to be civil or criminal in nature would be an unusual use of Cyber Command, and a potentially controversial one.

However Green notes that the Marines – similar to other military divisions – are hampered in their ability to prosecute by the current ambiguity around prosecutorial frameworks and precedents:

“We need the teeth to get at this,” he said “There needs to be a direct law that addresses this type of activity in that cyber world. I don’t think anybody can tell me the direct law that gets at this.”

The kind of reform Green believes may be needed, if such extreme measures are not to be sanctioned, would involve changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which applies across all military sectors – although its power to monitor IP addresses falls under federal remit, suggesting that incidents such as ‘revenge porn’ posting, or the unauthorised posting of compromising pictures of female colleagues, would need to become a federal offence with far better-defined parameters, procedures and penalties than are currently established – a situation which remains mutable in both military and civil law, according to country.

Green’s testimony comes in an initial response to the scandal of a private Facebook group with 30,000 members which was revealed to be sharing nude images of women Marines.

Though the group was reported some days ago to have been shut down in response to public and military outrage, CNN reports that the locus of activity has simply shifted to redirected pages, in a revised community which is now more wary of inviting new members. CNN was able to obtain access to the revived group because ex-Marine Sgt. James LaPorta, now a freelance journalist, was invited into the community.

LaPorta reported that the group continues to post lewd comments and ‘cheers’ whenever the controversy erupts again on the news. He said that two female Marines he spoke to about the group’s activities described the images and comments as “disgusting” and “unreal”, with one female Marine commenting “How am I supposed to lead my Marines when something as uncontrollable as my gender is what limits me?”

On Monday the Marines’ top officer, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, levelled harsh criticism at the behaviour of the group, observing: “When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don’t think such behavior is that of true warriors or warfighters.”


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