With all of the advanced technology intelligence agencies can employ, plus the fact that so much information is now stored digitally, it’s easy to make the assumption that modern espionage is all hacking and drone surveillance. In fact, though, there’s still plenty of room in the spy game for carbon-based operatives working in the field.

As such, it’s the responsibility of militaries and police forces the world over to be on guard against organic espionage threats. So while you can admire the diligence and zeal shown by a group of citizens and police in Vietnam who captured and detained what they thought was a ring of 16 Chinese spies, the suspects turned out to be innocent.

They also happen to be pigeons.

As first reported by Thanh Nien News, since November last year police in Da Nang have been presented with 16 pigeons captured by residents of the Vietnamese port city. Being a city of roughly a million people, pigeons themselves aren’t any cause for alarm in Da Nang, but the 16 that were turned in to the police stood out from their winged brethren in the urban landscape.

For starters, a series of markings had been placed on their wings, in colors such as red and green, which some suspected could be a code of some sort. In addition, the birds had bands on their legs, on which were written letters and numbers.

At least one bore the letters “CHN,” which many took to stand for “China.” But while that seems like a reasonable conclusion, it’s a bit of a jump to get to the next one some concerned citizens arrived at, which was that these 16 pigeons were spies sent from China.

Lending a whiff of believability to the accusations are Vietnamese media reports that some of the birds were found with “something that looked like a memory card” inside the leg bands. Still, regardless of how much or little faith you have in the might of China’s espionage agencies, it seems unlikely that they would essentially write their name on their spy tools, as though they were the jackets of forgetful grade school students.

 If found, please return to Wei, second grade, Ms. Chen’s class. P.S. Dibs on any industrial secrets in the pockets.

International espionage is no laughing matter, though, so the Da Nang police carried out an investigation, which just wrapped up this month. The findings have been announced to the public, and we’re sure those who were worried about foreign threats had their minds put at ease to hear that the pigeons are not, in fact, spies. It turns out they’re something almost as unexpected: racers.

The police have confirmed that all 16 of the birds were competitors in event held by pigeon racing clubs based in China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and even domestically inside Vietnam. The markings and leg bands serve as registration and identifiers for the competitions, some of which involve crossing oceans and international boundaries. None of that explains the memory card-like devices some people say were attached to some of the birds, but we’re just going to assume the police didn’t address them directly because they were all filed with photo files of hot lady pigeons the racers used to help get through the lonely nights of the multi-day races.

On the other hand, if you just can’t bear to let a juicy conspiracy theory go to waste, it does seem a little suspicious that real racing pigeons wouldn’t be fast enough to escape some vigilantes armed with nets, even if they were tired out from their long flights and stopping to rest in Da Nang. Plus, “international racer” is exactly the kind of awesome, globe-trotting cover we’d choose if we were spies.

Sources: Thanh Nien News via Iroiro via Hachima Kikou