New York Times
November 26, 2010
by Rebecca Cathcart
LOS ANGELES — Federal investigators discovered a sophisticated cross-border tunnel Thursday in an industrial part of San Diego. The half-mile tunnel was the second found this month equipped with rail tracks and carts to funnel drugs to and from Tijuana, Mexico.
After getting a tip about drug activity at a warehouse in Otay Mesa, a thicket of warehouses and truck repair shops that hugs the Mexican border, agents with the San Diego Tunnel Task Force arrested three men there and discovered the tunnel. United States and Mexican authorities have seized more than 20 tons of marijuana since Thursday.
Mexican military investigators later detained five men in Tijuana and uncovered an entrance to the tunnel beneath the kitchen floor of a house.
Mike Unzueta, who oversees investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego, said there were two entrances on the United States side, both in warehouses in the Otay Mesa area. Investigators believe the tunnel was operated by the Sinaloa cartel, one of the five largest drug cartels operating in Mexico. “This is fairly sophisticated construction,” Mr. Unzueta said. “There is a lighting system throughout, a ventilation system.”
The walls were reinforced with wood and cinder blocks, and had electrical outlets to charge jackhammers used to cut a path 60 to 90 feet underground.
On Nov. 2, federal agents found about 32 tons of marijuana and another tunnel less than a block from this one. The earlier tunnel had similar construction and connected two warehouses on either side of the border.
The authorities have found more than 75 tunnels along the border in the last four years. Most are rudimentary dirt passages, closer to the surface. Border Patrol agents discover many of the smaller tunnels when the ground beneath their vehicles caves in as they drive the dirt stretches along the border in California, Arizona and Texas, Mr. Unzueta said.
Otay Mesa, he said, has stronger ground, full of clay and decomposing granite. “You could just about build a tunnel without any reinforcement and it will stay,” he said.
The area is a target of the cartels because of its ready commercial infrastructure.
“There are literally semi trucks and warehouses everywhere you look,” Mr. Unzueta said, “and all the businesses that support that: gas stations, truck service centers. It’s an infrastructure that exists on both sides of the border.”