President Trump’s beloved border wall doesn’t prevent one method recently used by Mexican cartels to get drugs and people across the border: tunnels.
Border patrol officials tell Fox News that they are ill equipped to handle a network of more than 180 underground tunnels and drainage systems spanning across Mexico, California, and Arizona. As the labyrinth grows, border officials say their technology for detecting trespassers is lagging behind.
“They are always digging tunnels somewhere,” said Lance Lenoir, a member of the Border Patrol elite tunnel team working out of the San Diego Sector, speaking about the miles of storm drains he and his team of five agents need to patrol themselves.
Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis for Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm based out of Austin, Texas, says such an intricate system requires ample capital, and it costs the drug cartels dearly to lose a tunnel to border patrol intelligence, thus they are willing to go to great lengths to keep them secret.
“In order to ensure a good return on this huge investment, the cartel groups work to keep the tunnel’s existence and the locations of its exits a secret,” Stewart said. “In fact, we have seen cases in which cartels have brought laborers in to dig tunnels and then killed them after they were done to keep the tunnel secret.”
With knowledge of tunnel locations limited, officials must try to detect underground areas using radioactivity, but are severely limited by range and surface noise.
“Unfortunately, we are severely lacking in technology,” he said, referring to the number of field agents available and the quality of the existing equipment to reliably detect a tunnel. “It’s difficult trying to find something in a specific geologic region that is in a confined space that can be 4 feet in diameter and 90 feet underground.”
Thus, when they do discover a tunnel, its usually by accident and right under their noses. A tunnel discovered in October 2016 ran from an ice store near the Tijuana airport to a store just across the border in the U.S. Officials said about 5 tons of marijuana was found in the tunnel and in the buildings on both sides of the border.
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