How did identity thieves get passport data? From passport agency contractor!

Three women from Houston, Texas, stand accused of engaging in an identity theft scheme in which one of them, a contract employee of the Department of State Passport Agency, was in charge of stealing personally identifiable information of persons applying for a passport.

The information was then used to create counterfeit identification documents, which the other two women would use to successfully impersonate the affected individuals in order to fraudulently obtain commercial lines of credit and to purchase iPhones, iPads and other electronic merchandise.

This scheme went on for over five years.

There are no more details about how Chloe McClendon, the Passport Agency contractor, exfiltrated the personal data in question, but according to The Washington Post, the US Passport Agency has decided last month to ban both federal employees and private contractors from bringing devices equipped with a camera into the offices where they review and process requests for passports…

Technically, banning devices with cameras won’t stop determined insiders from stealing information.

No surprise. The majority of cases like this stem from a disgruntled employee or a plant.

Another problem in this particular case might be cost cutting. According to Rob Arnold, in the last few years the Passport Agency has been employing contractors to do jobs that used to be higher responsibility government posts.

Life with beancounters in charge of Congress produces exactly the most predictable result.

Uncle Sugar closes in on self-guided bullets — maybe by stealing patents

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), basically the US military’s mad scientist division, announced it had cleared another milestone in its quest to develop self-guided bullets. The agency released footage of live-fire tests conducted earlier this year showing .50-caliber bullets making sharp turns in midair…

The first patent for a theoretically functional self-guided bullet was filed in 1997 by an academic. Rolin F. Barnett, Jr., now an associate professor of automotive engineering at North Carolina State University and head of Barnett Engineering, says that he first dreamed up his system as a graduate student, over two decades ago, as a personal challenge…

DARPA seems to have waded into self-guided small arms munitions around 2008, when the agency’s first reported research contract on the subject popped up. The resulting project is known as the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance program (EXACTO), and aims to increase US sniper lethality from 90 percent at 2,000 feet in good conditions to 90 percent at 6,500 feet…

That 2008 contract, a $14.5 million grant to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary known as the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, yielded an impressive public demonstration of a self-guided bullet four years later. Sandia eliminated the grooves in a modern rifle, which normally help a bullet travel straight by making it spin, and instead crafted the .50-caliber bullet to be front-heavy so it would move through the air like a dart. The heaviness at the tip of the bullet was acheived by installing a series of laser-detecting optical sensors, which would follow a laser trained on a target using an internal, eight-bit processing system running a simple control algorithm to guide external fins that make up to 30 directional corrections per second…

“The DARPA project, I think, experimented with my technology,” Barnett says. “The one that was demonstrated at Sandia looked to be identical to my patent…”

Barnett is so convinced that the technology at play was based on his own that he’s tried to file for patent-holder compensation, but he says he was rebuffed by DARPA representatives…

The footage released this year stems from work by a separate contractor, California’s Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, which first received $25 million from DARPA to work on self-guided bullets in 2010. The company released initial footage of their bullets last summer, although it’s not known precisely how they differ from the Sandia ammunition…

“I don’t know about what they’re using [now],” says Barnett, “because simply there’s not enough publicly available information.”

No one’s sure if and when DARPA’s bullets will be ready for use on the battlefield. But details of the still-active Sandia project on its website and in interviews with researchers suggest that the technology may be marketed not just to the military but to civilian law enforcement officials or even recreational hunters.

Please, let’s don’t leave out contract killers. Especially the freelance variety without Pentagon or CIA contracts. They’re still NRA-approved.

Vatican officially recognizes the State of Palestine

Pope Francis with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem

The Vatican has officially recognized Palestine in a new treaty that switches the Holy See’s diplomatic relations from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine…

“During Pope Francis’ visit last year to the Holy Land, the official Vatican program referred to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as president of the state of Palestine. And, in its latest yearbook, the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See is listed as representing the state of Palestine.”

Abbas is scheduled to meet the pope on Saturday — the day before two new saints from the Holy Land are to be canonized.

The National Catholic Reporter says the text of today’s agreement will not be released until it receives approval at the highest levels…

The Crux, the Boston Globe’s website that covers the Catholic Church, provides some context about the Vatican’s position on the Palestinian issue:

“Diplomatically, the Vatican has long supported a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, providing security assurances for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians.

“Rome also backs an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem, including protection for holy sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.”

Israel continues to trudge down the path it helped construct for South Africa when that nation was ruled by apartheid and racism. Israel served as their front-man during the worldwide boycott of apartheid. Perhaps they will voluntarily recognize the futility of continuing their imperial occupation of Palestine.

I doubt it.

Over 40% of bee hives died in past year – Bayer says “Don’t worry, bee happy”

More than two out of five American honeybee colonies died in the past year, and surprisingly the worst die-off was in the summer…

Since April 2014, beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies, the second highest loss rate in nine years, according to an annual survey conducted by a bee partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

What shocked the entomologists is that is the first time they’ve noticed bees dying more in the summer than the winter, said vanEngelsdorp said. The survey found beekeepers lost 27.4 percent of their colonies this summer. That’s up from 19.8 percent the previous summer.

Seeing massive colony losses in summer is like seeing “a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter,” vanEngelsdorp said. “You just don’t expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer.”

Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin all saw more than 60 percent of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey…

Delaplane and vanEngelsdorp said a combination of mites, poor nutrition and pesticides are to blame for the bee deaths. USDA bee scientist Jeff Pettis said last summer’s large die-off included unusual queen loss and seemed worse in colonies that moved more.

Dick Rogers, chief beekeeper for pesticide-maker Bayer, said the loss figure is “not unusual at all” and said the survey shows an end result of more colonies now than before: 2.74 million hives in 2015, up from 2.64 million in 2014.

That doesn’t mean bee health is improving or stable, vanEngelsdorp said. After they lose colonies, beekeepers are splitting their surviving hives to recover their losses, pushing the bees to their limits, Delaplane said.

Bayer’s sophistry is impressive. They should make even larger donations to Congressional fops. They need the creeps in government who refuse responsibility for any destructive result from the corporate quest for profit at any price.