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Court-martial begins for Navy SEAL charged in connection with nude-photograph scheme

The panel listens to their instructions during the 167th Theater Sustainment Command's 4th annual mock court martial, Aug. 7-8, 2018, at the Calhoun County Courthouse, Anniston, Alabama. (Sgt. Jeremy Dunkle/Army National Guard)

A court-martial for a member of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 who has been charged in connection with a scheme to receive nude photographs from a woman he worked with began Tuesday.

Military prosecutors say Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Howard used text messaging apps that allowed him to use a fake phone number and pretend to be someone he is not in order to request nude pictures.

Lt. Kirwinn Mike, a Navy prosecutor, accused Howard of pretending to be a female performance dietitian who worked for Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Mike said that while pretending to be the dietitian, Howard told a woman by text message that he could provide her a body-fat analysis if she texted a picture of herself naked from the neck down and provided other measurements.

“It’s 100% safe,” one text message said. “You don’t have to worry.”

“He was willing to be whoever he needed to be to get those photos,” Mike said during opening statements.

Eventually, the woman who was asked for a nude photograph became suspicious and contacted the person the messages were purportedly sent from. The real-life dietitian then contacted authorities because she worried that other questions that were asked about SEAL identities could be a threat, perhaps from a foreign intelligence service.

Howard’s civilian defense attorney countered that while the text messages are real, there’s no evidence Howard sent them. Nor are there any nude photos on his phone or the victim’s phone.

“Their case is in shambles,” Michael Waddington said. “You pull one string, it falls apart.”

Mike said Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigators were able to trace the apps to an internet protocol address registered to Howard’s Virginia Beach home.

But Waddington said the email address used to create the text messaging accounts aligns with another SEAL’s nickname and that Howard was in Afghanistan when the original email account was created in Iowa. He said anyone could’ve linked that email address to Howard’s IP address.

He also tried to cast doubt on the NCIS investigation during opening statements by saying investigators were given the names of 23 people the messages could’ve been from, but they failed to follow up on those leads.

The court-martial at Naval Station Norfolk is scheduled to last through Friday.


© 2020 The Virginian-Pilot