Colorado’s Denver Post reported in late December 2019 and early January 2020 that local authorities had been receiving an alarming number of eyewitness reports alleging that pods of large, unidentified drones with 6-foot wingspans appeared to be patrolling the Mountain State.
State residents also spotted lone drones hovering around a localized area, as if they were actively surveying the space. The majority of the drone sightings reported to law enforcement during this period occurred between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. local time.
The continued reports in Colorado, and some parts of Nebraska, prompted a joint meeting on January 6 between local authorities and the FAA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Army, Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and US Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Representatives from around 77 government agencies were in attendance at the closed-door meeting.
The Drive, citing redacted FAA documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), revealed on Wednesday that despite the passage of several months, the FAA and the dozens of agencies assisting with the probe ultimately failed in determining who or what was behind the weekslong series of drone swarms.
Douglas D. Johnson, a volunteer researcher with the Scientific Coalition for Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Studies and the party who obtained the FAA documents via FOIA, provided the outlet with his own thoughts on how the FAA’s investigation was handled by the federal government.
"For at least a couple of weeks, the mystery drone flap had the serious attention of top FAA leaders, and at least two US senators. The FAA assigned apparently capable investigators, and mobilized resources from multiple FAA components,” Johnson detailed in his statement.
“The assistance provided by other federal agencies such as the FBI, DHS [Department of Homeland Security], and military was apparently quite limited, because of the absence of evidence of criminal intent, or of a proximate threat to military assets or other critical infrastructure.”
Furthermore, “once the aerial activity stopped, it appears that both federal and state agencies quickly dropped the matter,” he noted, “I have not yet seen any evidence of a continuing federal investigation, although there are many documents still not released."
According to Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA Pacific Division, the investigation died down around the same time media speculation waned on possible drone operators and their motives.
“As far as I know, the reports dried up around the middle of January,” the FAA official explained to a reporter in a February 5 email, according to The Drive. “We have not received any information that enabled us to determine what exactly it was that people were seeing and, if they were drones, who was flying them.”
This timeline would explain the Colorado Department of Public Safety’s January 13 update on the matter, which claimed the state department “has confirmed no incident involving criminal activity.”
With underwhelming leads and US military denying involvement, inquiring minds will likely return to a number of early theories regarding the drones’ ties and operators.
Aside from the predictable extraterrestrial argument, possible explanations for the drone pods’ presence included unruly teens playing with their Christmas gifts, tornado research for the University of Colorado Boulder and nongovernment actors attempting to gather intelligence on neighboring state Wyoming’s F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
The latter theory came about after The Daily Beast reported that witness reports of drones had been filed in counties bordering the facility, which is home to the 90th Missile Wing and some 200 Minuteman nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles enclosed in underground silos.
While the FAA investigation did not result in many findings, the agency was apparently able to conclude that the Pentagon and NORAD were not linked to the mysterious drone operations.
Claudio Manno, the FAA’s associate administrator for the Office of Security and Hazardous Materials Safety, detailed in a January 16 email that, three days prior, “the FAA contacted multiple offices within the Pentagon in both the Army and the Office of the Secretary. All provided negative responses. Combined with previous DOD engagement [by FAA] with USAF [US Air Force] and NORAD/NORTHCOM, there is high confidence these are not covert military activities."