Pubdate: Fri, 22 Apr 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Richard Perez-Pena


United States authorities discovered a half-mile tunnel running 
between California and Tijuana, Mexico. They also seized a 
significant amount of cocaine and marijuana.

For all the talk about a wall between the United States and Mexico, 
the problem with border security continues to be as much below ground 
as above. On Wednesday, officials in San Diego announced the 
discovery of another cross-border tunnel built by drug smugglers - 
the longest one found yet, at about half a mile.

The tunnel had rails, lighting, ventilation and even a large elevator 
leading to a closet in a modest house in Tijuana, United States 
Attorney Laura E. Duffy said. On the San Diego side, where the tunnel 
emerged in an industrial park in the Otay Mesa neighborhood, the 
authorities arrested and charged six people last week and confiscated 
more than a ton of cocaine and seven tons of marijuana that they said 
had been smuggled through the passage - the largest drug seizure 
associated with a tunnel.

Despite the superlatives cited by officials, the cat-and-mole game 
between law enforcement and drug cartels shows no sign of abating. In 
the last five years, the authorities said, they have found more than 
75 cross-border tunnels, mostly in areas of California and Arizona 
where there are enough buildings to disguise illicit activity, and 
the soil is conducive to digging. In Tijuana, in particular, the 
tunnels are considered an intractable fact of life.

Specialists on border control say no one has a clear idea how many 
tunnels are operating, or how much of a role they play in the drug 
trade, but they will be a factor for the foreseeable future. In just 
the last month, another long tunnel was found linking Calexico to 
Mexicali, and a shorter one near Calexico.

"They keep finding tunnels, they keep getting bigger and longer and 
more sophisticated," said David A. Shirk, associate professor of 
political science and international relations at the University of 
San Diego. "It just seems like we haven't reduced the capacity of 
people to make tunnels. I think this is a problem we have to manage, 
not a problem we can actually solve."

Law enforcement agencies have explored high-tech ways to detect 
tunnels using vibrations or magnetic fields, but those have not been 
effective. Most often, experts say, tunnels are found through 
old-fashioned police work, acting on tips or putting suspected 
traffickers under surveillance.

The tunnels demonstrate the persistence and resources of the cartels. 
Joaquin Guzman Loera, the Sinaloa cartel boss known as El Chapo, 
famously used tunnels to escape twice from prison, and to flee a 
hide-out shortly before his most recent capture.

Some experts say the tunnels are also a testament to the improved 
effectiveness of drug interdiction. Traffickers would not resort to 
digging, which is slow and expensive, unless they thought it was 
necessary, said Jayson Ahern, a former acting commissioner of United 
States Customs and Border Protection, who is now a principal at the 
Chertoff Group, a security firm.

"You still are dealing with a very adaptable adversary, who will try 
to get their drugs into the U.S. by any means necessary," Mr. Ahern 
said. "Every time you go ahead and displace a smuggling route, you 
make it more difficult for yourself to detect the next route."

The tunnels have not been known to be used for large-scale smuggling 
of people, which would increase the number of people who could be 
caught and disclose a tunnel's location. And despite fears raised in 
Congress, experts say there is no evidence that the cartels are 
helping terrorists enter the country.

"A package of cocaine or heroin is much easier to move and hide than 
a person, and the profit it represents is far greater," said 
Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the 
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a policy research 
group. "Working with terrorists would bring a huge amount heat on the 
cartels, and that's bad for business."

The latest tunnel discovered, in an investigation involving several 
federal agencies, was almost 900 yards long. At about 10 feet deep 
and three feet wide, it was narrower and shallower than some others 
that have been found. The northern opening was in a fenced commercial 
lot with stacks of wooden pallets.

"I think it fair to say that few would suspect that traffickers were 
moving multiton quantities of cocaine and marijuana in this very 
unassuming way, in full view of the world around them," Ms. Duffy said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom