Department of Defense Press Briefing by Gen. Neller in the Pentagon Briefing Room
GENERAL ROBERT NELLER: Hey, good afternoon.
When I was a J3, they never let me come in here.
Hopefully we won't find out why.
I thought we were gonna have a small little gathering in the dining room, have a round table to talk about this, but clearly this has kind of gone beyond that. So let me make a quick statement and then I'll take some questions.
I'm General Bob Neller. I'm the commandant of the Marine Corps. And you all know we're looking at allegations that Marines, specifically female Marines, have been subjected to cyberbullying, nonconsensual sharing of images and completely disrespectful comments made about them, presumably by other Marines. These allegations themselves, they undermine everything that we stand for as a Marine Corps and as Marines; discipline, honor, professionalism and respect and trust amongst each other.
We can't do what our nation needs us to do, which is fight and win in combat and in life. We make Marines, we win battles and we return better citizens back to our nation. That's our mission.
So I don't know how many active duty Marines are involved in this or participated in this website, Marines United. I don't know the exact number of Marines that may have been targeted. I don't know how many active duty Marines participated or were (unavailable) to this behavior. The investigation that's ongoing will help us understand the scope of this and I can assure you if there's accountability to be made, those that are involved will be held accountable.
For those Marines that are watching this or listening or may have been involved in this, if you're participating in this type of behavior in any way, shape or form, you're not helping me or your Marine Corps and I'd ask you to reconsider your participation in any sort of behavior like this. You know, we -- we claim that being a Marine is a special title and something that you earn. There's honor here. But there is no honor in denigrating a fellow Marine in any way, shape or form.
So what are we doing about it? As I mentioned, there's an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service that's ongoing. Directed Assistant Commandant General Walters to form up a task force to take a look at where we are in the investigation and what other actions might be taken.
They'll be part of the assessment of the scope and scale of this, with allegations of any activity on social media, but also take a look at any underlying cultural issues. They're going to look at what's going on, while developing plans for corrective actions and recommendations to policies, procedures, education and training of Marines that will prevent this in the future, and the culture that -- I'd say subculture -- that may have given rise to this.
So, I believe I've been pretty clear in all of the things I've written. I think you've seen the message to the force I put out where I specifically stated -- I didn't address this type of behavior, but I talked about other things that Marines have been involved with where they were destructive to them and to the organization, and that basically I said we needed to treat each other better.
This was all before that -- before -- this was before this -- these allegations.
So, I think I've been pretty clear on what the expectation is of Marines, and I think I've been pretty clear what they should expect of leadership and of me.
So, we'll address this like we've addressed any other issue we've had: head on. We're going to be self-critical, self-analytical. But we also gotta recognize that there's a problem and we got to figure out how to -- how to solve it.
But I would remind everybody that the overwhelming number of Marines past and present still live up to our core values of honor, courage and commitment. And I'm sure they're as troubled by this whole thing as I am.
So I'm ready to take any of your questions.
Q: General, first, thanks for coming out and doing this.
How many women so far have come forward to give, sort of, a formal complaint, because there's a formal investigations going on? And have you taken any action so far against anyone, any sort of punishment?
And then, sort of, a broader question. You said presumably other Marines: Do you believe other Marines have been doing this photo-sharing? And what is your message to the women Marines?
GEN. NELLER: First, you know, the number that we know of is less than 10 so far. But we would encourage anybody else who believes they've been involved in this to come forward.
The number of individuals that the reporter, who I just -- I'm, kind of, concerned about sky-lining Mr. Brennan, because he's been -- (inaudible) -- threatened, which I find as disgusting and as sick as any some of this other stuff, that somebody who would try to bring this to attention would be attacked by other Marines.
But I think they were -- right now, I think -- his evidence I think is around 30.
I'm sorry, what were --
Q: How many are currently --
GEN. NELLER: There's been nobody charged at this time.
The investigation is ongoing. So, you know, we are going to find out what we find out.
Q: And then what's your message to the women in the Marine Corp who -- this is obviously -- there's a lot of this going on online, and the internet. There's a lot of everywhere. Some of it maybe willing, some of it may be unwilling. What's your overall message?
GEN. NELLER: I'm going to ask them to trust us.
And I understand why that might be a bit of a reach for them right now.
But I can't fix this. I mean, the only -- the way that there's going to be accountability in this, is if somebody comes forward and tells us what happened to them.
I think you all know, there's been a lot of discussion recently -- I was on a radio show yesterday, where -- (inaudible) -- talking about social media and what the -- I mean, the legal system is -- there's some things that we're learning about this. You know, if you post a picture, or you give a picture to somebody, is that consent.? What's consent?
You know, I'm not a lawyer. I got my lawyer here and he's probably cringing that I'm even talking about this right now. But that's part of the difficulty of getting to the bottom of this, is because people believe, not just in the military but in our society, that there's a certain level of anonymity in this and that they can freely take a picture of any of us walking down the street and post it and then ask everybody else what they think and they can say things and then walk away.
But this is different. These -- these -- based on the allegations, you know, the individuals that were doing this were focused on a particular group and their purpose was to be -- was to degrade, for whatever reason, whatever reason they had, whatever it was to make themselves feel better or -- I don't know. I'm trying to understand that.
Q: Thank you. General, critics have said that the Uniform Code of Military Justice is such that as you mentioned consent, if the photo was initially taken consensually, that doesn't rise to Article 120c. So I'm wondering, does the Uniform Code of Military Justice allow the strictest penalties in this case?
GEN. NELLER: Well, I'm not going to get into penalties and what the outcome is going to be, but we talked about this. I think that's something that this task force is going to help us understand is what, you know, what can we do, what can't we do, what needs -- potentially needs to be changed so that there can be better accountability, and you know, so that people might realize there are going to be consequences to this type of behavior.
But I think that's down the road.
Q: If I can follow up, what have you observed about the internal dynamics of this group, Marines United? Apparently, there's been some internal disagreement over the past few months about whether this behavior was appropriate at all.
GEN. NELLER: I'm not a member of Marines United and I don't participate in their site, so I don't really know or am I interested in what their internal dialogue is.
Q: Are you aware of other sites that Marines were using to exchange these kinds of photos?
GEN. NELLER: Am I personally aware? We've been out looking and I'm not going to speculate, (inaudible), but my sense is there's probably others out there and I think -- and so we're -- you know, as people come forward, hopefully more -- and we'll find out more about this and other sites that are out there.
Q: Is Mr. Brennan being provided any protection?
GEN. NELLER: I'm not going to speak for Mr. Brennan. I've spoken to him. He assures me that he's -- you know, he's okay and he's got -- he's informed the appropriate authorities as to what the situation is.
Q: Two questions. Will any women Marine officers serve on the task force? And you talked about accountability, what will the consequences be given the difficulty you're having?
GEN. NELLER: You know, we formed the task force a couple of days ago. I'm pretty confident there will be female Marines. I'm going to meet with them later today and we're actually having a meeting with all our commanders and their senior enlisted to kind of give them an update as to where it is.
But as far as what's going to happen, if/what, then this, you know, that's something that I'm not going to do because that's not -- you know, a commander never goes out and says if you do this, then this. So I don't -- because I don't know enough about what's going to come out of the investigation other than our goal is to, if there is accountability to be had, we'll make that accountability.
Q: To be clear, no women on the task force (inaudible) you expect them to be?
GEN. NELLER: There -- I expect there will be. I just don't -- you know, when I talked to General Walters, he hadn't said you know, there's a list -- give me a list. But I know that there's a number of female Marines that are working for (inaudible) in Public Affairs and they're been part and parcel of all the discussions we've had about the statements and have been very helpful to me to help me frame the bigger situation.
Q: Sir, you just sent 400 Marines to Syria. Can you talk about what kind of impact these actions, these alleged actions by other Marines, could have on them and how this can be used as propaganda in the fight against ISIS?
GEN. NELLER: I'm not gonna talk about ongoing operations.
I'm pretty confident that those Marines are focused on what their mission is, and you know, if anything, you know, their -- their focused on (inaudible) what they need to do and doing what they have to do and what their mission is.
As far as any organization, in today's world, anytime somebody has issues, there's always somebody that's willing to step up and use that as a way to -- to degrade or -- or disparage that particular organization. Whether some group like ISIS or anybody else is going to do that, I don't know.
Q: General, there's now a second group, Marines United 2.0, that seems to be in defiance of you continuing to post these pictures. What does Marines United 2.0 say about your ability to address this problem?
GEN. NELLER: I don't know what United Marines -- Marines United 2.0 says or doesn't say, and quite frankly, I'm not interested. But I mean, I think the example is -- what the problem is -- because after this was identified, we went to the provider and asked them to take it down, which they did. And so now, we're into this -- the ability in this domain to move around and hide under the cover of darkness and not to stand up and be somebody of substance, I think that speaks for my opinion of this organization.
Q: You've spoken about, you know, underlying cultural challenges and the subculture. To what extent is this a cultural problem within the Marine Corps?
GEN. NELLER: I think we're going to find out, you know, what degree this is in the organization. But I mean, I'm not qualified -- I'm not going to lay this off on anybody else, on the society or anybody else. I mean, okay -- this is our problem and I own it. We own it. So we have a culture we believe in, and if there's people out there that aren't going to buy in 100 percent to that culture, then we probably need to have a conversation.
Q: Sir, could you talk about motive a little bit? Do you think the motive behind this was to intimidate female Marines, particularly given the debate within the Marine Corps last year about expanding all combat positions to women?
GEN. NELLER: You know, I don't know what their motive is. You'd have to ask them. But regardless, you know, I guess we've talked about this and I'll give you my personal opinion. Whatever your opinion is on that, okay, we can have a discussion about that. But I don't see how you get from that to where you feel that it's going to help your argument or your position on that to take a picture of another Marine, post it and make negative, degrading comments about them. I mean, how do you get from A to B?
And so that's -- that's what I'm struggling with.
Q: Following up on your comment about underlying cultural issues or subculture, what concrete steps do you anticipate the task force will take to ask those questions? And what specific answers are you looking for?
GEN. NELLER: I think first, we want to make sure that the victims are provided appropriate support and services. Second, we want to make sure that we follow the investigation and we can get to some sort of understanding of what's going on and of, you know, who's involved and what's going on.
You know -- (inaudible) -- we talk about our culture all the time. And again, if you go back to the message of the force that was done after the first of the year, I'm talking about our culture. I'm trying to define what I think that culture is and trying to make people understand that there is a certain way that we expect you to behave and live your life and serve as a Marine. And so if there are those that think that they've got a better way, then we're going to have to talk about that.
But I'm not sure I know what I don't know yet about that. We're going to try to dig into that.
Q: Thanks, general. Is there a time frame for the task force, any kind of deadlines?
GEN. NELLER: No, not yet. Again, we're less than a week into this, and you know, it'll -- the investigation's the investigation. We're there to support the investigation and they will -- I don't know what their timeline is. But I have to say we don't -- we don't want to be in a hurry. We want to make sure we're thorough and we're within the law and we'll uncover things as we go along.
Q: And should female Marines feel comfortable in coming forward, especially in the face of any sort of career retaliation or peer retaliation?
GEN. NELLER: Anything I've ever read or heard about on the social media bullying, you know, you're always at risk as far as somebody else. From the institution, no. I mean, I'm -- I'm going to make sure that if you come forward, that the chain of command is -- they're obligated and required by order, rule and regulation and by my direct directions to make sure that they're protected. And that -- again, because I know it's a stretch for me to ask them at this time, but I want to believe that they believe that we're going to do all we can to get to the bottom of this and I need their help.
I need everybody's help, not just women Marines. I need all Marines. This affects them directly, but this affects the entire organization and our alumni and our reserve component.
Q: Excuse me. Sir, when did you first hear about these allegations? Was it when the report came out or had you heard rumors before hand?
GEN. NELLER: I mean, the timeline is toward the end of January, almost the end of January, we were contacted by a reporter who told us about this and then we engaged with him and he came forward with enough information that we felt that it was a credible thing. The day after that, we went to the service provider and we had the site taken down and then we continued to engage and then we convened the investigation and then we worked with the individual as he was getting ready to release his story.
I'm looking at Jim Glenn over here. I think that's accurate. So we were aware of it for some time and we knew that he had a point where he was going to release the story. And so we were -- I think we had tried to engage certain people in anticipation of the release of the story and -- so now, here we are.
Q: Have you spoken to any of your fellow service chiefs about that or have they expressed any concern?
GEN. NELLER: All the service chiefs and the chairmen, they all know what's going on. In fact, CNO asked if he wanted me to -- if I wanted him to come down here with me. I said no, I got it. I got this one. I'll do one more.
Thomas, I'll get -- see you in the back. I've got to call on a Marine back here, just so he won't get upset with me later.
Q: You know, all due respect about the timeline, sir -- thanks for doing this, by the way. But the -- there were reports of these misogynistic websites in 2013, 2014. I believe Marine Corps Times and Task and Purpose reported on it and was indicative of this -- of this subculture. So I'm wondering, why did this incident prompt such a heavy response as -- (inaudible) -- maybe tackling it beforehand because this has been pretty well known?
And then second, I mean, you talk about the subculture but I'd really appreciate in your words, as the Marine Corps top officer, you know what that subculture looks like to you.
GEN. NELLER: You know, I don't have a good answer for you. I mean, I could give you a lot reasons, but they'd sound like excuses. I remember when all that went down, with General Amos and everything. And quite frankly, I don't -- as an individual -- and maybe that's a failing on my part. I mean, I've got -- we've got folks that track this stuff and we're looking at this stuff. And on the day to day basis, the United States Marine Corps is not out there looking for, you know, sites that -- you know, we're looking for people who may do certain things.
But I -- you know, I -- if you'd ask me a week -- two or three weeks ago, you know, what -- you know, what's my number one concern, it wouldn't be looking for websites where Marines are allegedly posting pictures of other Marines and making, you know, degrading, misogynistic, objectifying comments.
You know, I kind of thought we were getting ready to modernize the force, address our readiness. You know, go here, go there. I was going to go to Norway this weekend and see a bunch of Marines above the Arctic Circle up there training and doing all the stuff that I think the great great majority of us came in the Marine Corps to do. You know, travel, do challenging things, get ready to go represent our nation. So instead, I'm going to be up on Capitol Hill. I got it.
So I don't have a -- I don't have a good question as to why, after this original thing. I think we learned some -- I mean, I think -- I don't think we walked away from it. I think we realized -- and I think if you read anything I've written or anything I've said or anything I've talked about, you know, kind of the self destructive behavior mostly revolving alcohol around Marines that leads to other things.
But I'm thinking back -- you know, why wasn't I talking about this. I just -- I don't -- I don't have a Facebook page, I don't do social media, all right? And maybe that's maybe my mistake.
On the subculture thing, I don't know, you know, what group or particular demographic in the Marine Corps is involved in this. I don't know if they think they're helping us. I don't know if they think that, you know, they're going to fight some fight because they think that they've got a better idea.
I don't know if this is something they're doing to try to increase their rep because, you know, they're -- they may or may not have been in combat or want to go to combat and so they got to get creds on this group. I don't know, Thomas.
I mean, I'm hoping maybe I'll -- I'm gonna -- (inaudible) -- somebody come and tell me why, get some explanation because I'm -- I'm generationally challenged here, all right? You know, my -- you know, my children help me try to understand this stuff and -- and you know, when we read the news, you know, watch this stuff -- (inaudible) -- but now it's okay. It's right dead center. It's right in front of me now. So like all right. You know, got to get -- you got to understand the threat, understand what's going on.
And maybe -- I'm hoping the Marines, when I come down there and when I go around, I'm going to talk to them, and like the Marines here have spoken to me. But it's not just -- it's not just on social media. I think -- I think, you know -- and we've been fighting for 15 years. You know, men and women, side by side. Okay. And women, they did their -- they did their thing and I don't know what else they got to do to like say, yes, okay, good to go.
I mean, we all bring something to the game, right? You know, he -- (inaudible) battalion was up at -- (inaudible) -- and they were doing a checkpoint. A sergeant major was killed up there with a couple of female Marines that were manning the checkpoint where the women -- the Iraqi women would come through. So I mean, how much -- so what do you got to do to get in? What do you got to do to get in? I mean, come on, guys. They just want to do their job. Let them do their job and you do yours. And you know what? It'll all work out.
But this is not the way, and if you think you're helping me or the institution, I don't need your help this way. I do not. I've got enough problems. I need to you help me in other ways. I need you to be good people, men and women of character and virtue, I need you to get your GCT score up so you can go to college or become an officer. I need you to read all the books on the commandant's reading list. I need you to improve your PFT score. Like I said, I need you to, you know, read more, drink less and P.T. smarter. Okay? That's what I need you to do.
And if we all do that, it'll be good. It'll be good. This is not helpful.
Okay. Thank you very much.