The Pentagon told ABC News on Monday that the viral photos appearing to show uniformed American service members criticizing a U.S. strike on Syria are a hoax, and potentially part of a pro-Assad disinformation campaign:
Five remarkably similar photos posted on a defaced U.S. Marine Corps website appeared to show American troops from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines concealing their faces with the messages, such as "Stay out of Syria" and "I will not fight for Al Qaeda in Syria."
"We believe the photos are illegitimate," U.S. Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Neil Murphy told ABC News on Monday. […]
In [one] photo, a man wearing the uniform of a Navy chief petty officer holds a placard that blocks his face and read, "I didn’t join the Navy to fight for al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war."
But the Marines’ spokesman said the "sailor" likely wasn’t an American at all.
"We do not know the identity of the person in the photo, however, we are confident that the photo is part of a disinformation campaign that was part of a targeted ‘cyber redirect’ last week," Murphy told ABC News.
The pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army hacked the Marines.com website last week, redirecting viewers to a page displaying the anti-war photos and encouraging U.S. troops to oppose the strike and rebel against military orders:
During the cyber attack, computer users attempting to go to the Marines.com website would actually be taken to another site featuring several pictures of the alleged anti-intervention servicemen along with a statement from the SEA urging American troops to defy their orders should they be called to go to Syria.
"Obama is a traitor who wants to put your lives in danger to rescue al Qaeda insurgents," a message from the SEA on the site said, calling the Marines their "brothers."
The article notes that Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who opposes the Syria strike, referred to one of the photos during an interview with ABC’s "This Week" last Sunday. A Cruz spokesperson told ABC News on Monday that the senator was not aware of the veracity of the pictures when he made the comment but added that veterans had expressed similar concerns to him about the intervention in person.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said U.S. troops should not be penalized for speaking out against the strike on the Internet during an interview with Politico on Wednesday.
Paul also continued to push against the administration’s advocacy for a military intervention, echoing an attack line from Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), another outspoken freshman, that the American military shouldn’t be helping rebels in Syria who could be working with extremists.
"We’re hearing it directly from soldiers, we’re hearing it from their parents … they aren’t willing to fight for al Qaeda," Paul said, adding that members of the military shouldn’t be punished for speaking out, including on the Internet. "I wouldn’t want to see young men basically court-martialed for posting their opinion."
The U.S. military prohibits service members from engaging in political activities while in uniform or while acting as a military representative.