More internal emails show FBI involvement, more questions about mystery drones on eastern Plains

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HOLYOKE, Colo. (KDVR)– Another round of internal emails obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers shows sheriffs in Phillips and Yuma counties received support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation during their efforts to determine who was operating a group of drones in northeastern Colorado early last month.

Residents, however, are frustrated that no authorities could ever explain why drones were flying in clusters over their properties.

“It’s just becoming a joke now,” said Sam George, who shot some footage of the drones in January near Wray.  “I’d really like to see what they were actually doing – even if they were just surveying or taking heat temperatures off the land. I’m interested in knowing what they were up to.”

In an email sent Jan. 2, 2020, addressed to Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliott, a man named Ryan Butler from the FBI inquired about the ongoing drone investigation and a questionable vehicle in the area. 

His message was labeled “Drone Intel Update.”

Hi Sheriff Elliott,

I know that you are probably getting pinged a lot regarding the drone sightings, and I apologize to add to the pile!

I have been asked to provide our HQ with an update on the sightings later this morning.  I saw your office’s intel report that included the sighting of the van with partial Nebraska plate #UDF at the gas station in Sterling.  I also saw that attempts to review surveillance footage at the gas station were pending.

Three quick questions for you:

Have there been any updates on getting an ID for the van or it’s (sic) occupants?

Any other new intel that has come in on the drones in general?

Is there anything that me or my office can do to help?

Please let me know if there is anything I can do,

Ryan

Other emails reviewed by the FOX31 Problem Solvers showed the sheriffs received information from the federal government about agricultural materials that had recently been found in the region where the drones were flying.

Kit Carson County Sheriff Tom Ridnour forwarded a photograph of the item to various other law enforcement offices.

The attached picture was sent to from (sic) Michael Bumberger with the FAA.  These were found being dropped from the drones in Nebraska.  About 6 of these was found on one night and more have been found after that.  They have no idea what it is and it has been sent off to be tested at the FBI labs.  They are hoping to know what it is today.  Mike told me that it was field tested for Meth and it was negative.  He is asking that if any of us find something like this to collect and let him know.  The FBI does not think whatever it is is dangerous. 

A later email from Ridnour provided more details about the items.

I have not heard of these before and he told me last night that the deputies did not see the drones drop them, they just assumed and these were found in the same place/path as the drones were followed…FBI Omaha advised the strange items referred to as space potatoes have been identified as SOILPAM Tracklogs(pictures attached).  Basically they are dropped from pivot machines to solidify the tracks and the ruts the machine makes.  A pivot machine is the very large center or lateral pivot agriculture watering apparatus.  The gel is made up of poly-chloride tablets in a mesh stocking.  When they get wet form (sic) a gel log which replaces the dirt that was displaced by the pivot machines wheels.

The deputies located the items in the fields while pursuing the drones.

Other emails showed the sheriffs received various tips an about the investigation.  In one email signed by Yuma County Sheriff, Todd Combs, he mentioned an inquiry into a company called BlueChip UAS.

I was told that a company called BlueChip UAS was talking on their groups though (sic) out the UAS community that they were flying the drones and amused at the discontent that it was causing.  I looked on line and found some information that led me to a number (redacted). I called it and someone answered it but said BlueChip had closed down two years ago.

In a Dec. 30, 2019 email signed, “TC,” the manner in which Sheriff Todd Combs signs his emails, the author expressed that he had not heard of the drones doing anything illegal yet.

I am waiting for someone to try and shoot one down though.  That would speed up the investigation. TC.

The investigation into the drone operators has dwindled in recent weeks.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Safety about its efforts. 

A spokesperson said reports of suspicious activity dropped significantly since January.  They only received approximately 40 reports since Jan.10, 2020.

The Nebraska State Patrol said it had received 159 reports of four or more drones flying in clusters between the end of December and Jan. 21, 2020, when calls started to taper off. 

Some of those reports, a spokesperson said, might have been duplicate sightings.

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