Underground tunnels traversing international boundaries usually conjures up images of Israel's security threats from Hezbollah infiltrations tunnels on their northern border. However, the latest revelation by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demonstrates that we are just as threatened by tunnels being dug into our territory by the Mexican drug cartels, even if the "conflict" is more subtle.
Wednesday, CBP announced the discovery of the largest tunnel ever dug into U.S. territory, measuring a total 4,068 feet from the Mexico-California border, with a total length of 4,309 feet. "While subterranean tunnels are not a new occurrence along the California-Mexico border, the sophistication and length of this particular tunnel demonstrates the time-consuming efforts transnational criminal organizations will undertake to facilitate cross-border smuggling," said Cardell T. Morant, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Diego.
According to the CBP news release, the tunnel originated in an industrial area of Tijuana. They discovered the suspected exit of the tunnel in a warehouse in Otay Mesa, California, when they found hundreds of sandbags covering up the breach point last August.
The tunnel, which is now being destroyed, is approximately 5 1/2 feet tall and 2 feet wide and was dug roughly 70 feet below the surface. It contained much of the sophistication of the Hezbollah tunnels in Israel – with "an extensive rail/cart system, forced air ventilation, high voltage electrical cables and panels, an elevator at the tunnel entrance, and a complex drainage system."
While CBP made it clear that the cartels constructing tunnels under our border is nothing new, what is concerning is how they've advanced in technology while the efforts to counter them do not seem to have improved. Our government still views the border with a law enforcement lens rather than with a national security mindset to secure a perimeter the way the Israelis do both at their norther and southern borders. It is something that will need a great deal of attention from DHS and potentially the Pentagon, as the expanded border wall forces the cartels to increasingly rely on other methods for smuggling.
"The sophistication of this tunnel once again validates the Mexican cartel's capabilities far exceed U.S. law enforcement's ability to stop them," said Jaeson Jones, a retired Texas Department of Public Safety captain, in an interview with TheBlaze. "The construction of a tunnel that exceeds 70 feet below ground and stretches ¾ of a mile into the United States demonstrates the multifaceted capabilities of the cartels today and the national security threat they pose to our nation."
Jones, who used to manage the daily operations of the Texas Rangers' Border Security Operations Center (BSOC), has been a vocal advocate for the State Department to designate the cartels as terrorists and treat them with more of a national security mindset.
"U.S. law enforcement may attempt to shine a light on the fact that this tunnel was discovered in the first place," lamented Jones. "However, even after almost six months of a federal task force investigation, no one has been arrested and no narcotics have been seized. What did they get for it? A hole in the ground. Once again, this validates the need for national defense capabilities and authorities to protect the nation against the cartel threat. This cartel tunnel only highlights the immediate need to designate the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations and treat our defense against them the way we would Hamas or Hezbollah."
Jones noted that tunnels have been more of a problem in California than Texas because the Texas soil makes it hard for tunnels to be built without collapsing.
The retired border expert, who often appears on the Lou Dobbs show to discuss the cartels, expressed frustration that our government seems to view these tunnels as "just about drugs."
"These people are also engaged in dangerous weapons along with the drugs that foments so much violence on both sides of the border," warned Jones.
"The authorities that are required to deal with this problem are within the national defense apparatus. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) uses tunnel-detection technology across the world. We need all those national defense capabilities at our own border to detect these things earlier."
A recent study has shown that the number of drug-associated deaths in America per year might be 2.2 times the amount of officially drug-coded deaths, topping 140,000 a year. In addition, to the drug deaths, much of the violence in cities like Chicago is fueled by cartel activities or the transnational gangs associated with them, according to DEA's most recent annual threat assessment.
The fact that in just one fiscal year ICE lodged detainers on foreign nationals subject to 2,500 homicide charges or convictions demonstrates the point that so much violence gets back to the border and cartel activity. It might not be a black-zone conflict like it is with Israel and Hezbollah or Hamas, but the gray-zone conflict with the cartels is driving a "substantial portion" of the violence we are seeing in Chicago.
In 2006, a super-majority of Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which required the secretary of homeland security to "take all actions" necessary within 18 months of passage to "achieve and maintain operational control over the entire international land and maritime borders of the United States." Section 2(b) of the bill defined "operational control" as "the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband."
Where are we today?"Fourteen years later, with the continued law enforcement mindset being applied to a national security problem, our government will continue failing to achieve the goal of border security," warned Jones.