Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… over the last several months, officials in Utah have been perplexed by the appearance of mysterious antennas that have been cropping up in remote locations on public lands. In our analysis this week, we’ll be looking at 1) the series of events surrounding the discovery of Utah’s “mystery antennas,” 2) why public officials The Debrief has spoken with say they can’t figure out what the devices are, or who placed them there, and 3) possible solutions to the mystery behind these devices, and what they could actually be used for.
With the housekeeping all out of the way, it’s now time to turn our attention toward the mystery that public officials in Utah have been dealing with in recent days and whether a solution to the “mystery antennas” turning up in Salt Lake City’s remote hills might be on the horizon.
Utah’s Mystery Antennas
In an odd series of events that have been making news in recent days, authorities near Salt Lake City, Utah, have been reporting the discovery of unusual antenna arrays along mountaintops and ridges.
Although making news recently, officials in Utah say the first antennas actually began appearing more than a year ago. However, an increasing number of the devices have appeared within the last few months, according to Salt Lake recreational trails manager Tyler Fonarow in a statement given to KSLTV 5 earlier this month.
With little information about who placed the devices on public lands and for what purpose, officials have faced the cumbersome task of having to hike into Utah’s snowy foothills to remove the devices.
Presently, the reason for the sudden strange appearance of these antennas remains a mystery, although at least a few ideas about the devices have been put forward. However, in recent days The Debrief has learned that part of the problem that has kept officials in the dark about the devices comes down to simple economics.
Officials Face Limited Resources
In recent days, The Debrief reached out to Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Lands, who said they didn’t have any updates about the devices.
“Many people have reached out and helped us identify the locations of a couple more towers that we’ll be removing,” said Luke Allen, a spokesperson with the department.
“We aren’t going to invest more staff time into trying to determine what these towers are for, nor do we have the expertise on staff to do so,” Allen told The Debrief in an email.
Based on images posted to social media, the primary components of the devices consist of an antenna, a router, a solar panel, and a sealed battery container. Although Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Lands has been tasked with the removal of many of the devices, some have also appeared on U.S. Forest Service property, as well as land owned by the University of Utah.
So what are the devices, and what are they actually being used for?
Theories Behind the Mystery Antennas
A number of ideas have been put forward about what the devices could be used for. These range from amateur radio emergency data network (AREDN) units, to regional deployments of Motus wildlife tracking systems. However, in either case, permits should be able to be easily located to confirm this, in addition to available information online that would indicate the deployment of things like wildlife tracking systems, none of which have been found.
Another possibility involves the potential use of the antennas as wifi repeaters, although with the availability of satellite internet for customers in such remote areas, the illegal placement of antennas on public lands for such purposes again seems less likely.
Another idea put forward in recent days involves the antennas being used as hotspots with Helium, a wireless blockchain system that, according to its website, “represents a paradigm shift for decentralized wireless infrastructure.”
“By deploying a simple device in your home or office, you can provide your city with miles of low-power network coverage for billions of devices and earn a new cryptocurrency, HNT,” the website states.
William Knowles, an information security expert, said in a Tweet that while the devices do look like evidence of Helium miners, “whoever is placing them is spending more on infrastructure than they could ever dream of making today.”
“Helium as a cryptocurrency asset has been on a major slide even before FTX and 3AC cratered,” Knowles said.
Presently, none of the above theories have been confirmed, although in his email to The Debrief, Luke Allen with Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Lands was clear about what his agency plans to do with them.
“[O]ur main priority right now is to get them off the mountain,” Allen said.
Any readers who may have ideas about what the purpose behind these antennas might be can send along suggestions via email at tips [@] thedebrief.org.
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