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December 10th, 2009
10:10 PM ET

Inside a border tunnel

Editor's Note: Authorities have uncovered an underground tunnel between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California. Anderson will be live from this new tunnel tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Inside the border tunnel.
Inside the border tunnel.

Charlie Moore
AC360° Senior Broadcast Producer

Authorities have uncovered an unfinished tunnel under the border between the United States and Mexico. The tunnel, complete with an elevator, electricity and a ventilation system, extends from Tijuana, Mexico to Otay Mesa, Calif., in San Diego.

The tunnel was discovered by Mexican law enforcement working with the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which includes agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Border Patrol.

The tunnel would have been used primarily, if not exclusively, for moving drugs under the border, according to DEA agents. Thirteen people were arrested inside the tunnel last week and an investigation into others responsible for planning and building the illegal tunnel is ongoing.

CNN photojournalist Neil Hallsworth takes a dummy car down 90 feet into the tunnel.
CNN photojournalist Neil Hallsworth takes a dummy car down 90 feet into the tunnel.

The tunnel is approximately 900 feet long and reaches a depth of up to 100 feet. Law enforcement agents estimate it has been under construction for roughly three years. The Otey Mesa exit point had yet to be finished, but agents say it was very close to completion.

Over the past year, Mexican and U.S. authorities have ramped up efforts to contain cross-border drug trafficking. This discovery is the latest in a series of tunnels found in recent months under the California and Mexico border. Authorities contend the tunnels are used by Mexican organized crime groups to smuggle drugs under the border into the U.S.

One end of the tunnel on the U.S. side of the border, where agents discovered the tunnel and bore into it.
One end of the tunnel on the U.S. side of the border, where agents discovered the tunnel and bore into it.

The entrance of the tunnel is in a non-descript warehouse in Tijuana, which contains pallets of soda, paper towels and toilet paper.

To access the tunnel, people would step into a bathroom with a thick concrete false floor connected to a hydraulic system that would lower them down approximately eight feet to the first ‘room’ of the tunnel.

This 15-foot-square room is where agents believe the tunnel workers would squeeze together to sleep.

After the first room, a tunnel shaft extends about 15 feet to a small alcove where there is a dummy car attached to a motorized cable. The dummy car is lowered on a crude, wooden track to the main tunnel shaft.

The main shaft is about five-feet by four-feet and is solid rock. Agents discovered jackhammers and crude picks inside which were used to construct the tunnel. Electric cables and light bulbs run along one side of the tunnel, as well as pipes for water.

A jackhammer discovered inside the tunnel.
A jackhammer discovered inside the tunnel.

The intricate and detailed engineering has led agents to believe that the workers had prior experience in construction.

The dirt floor of the tunnel is littered with things the workers left behind - cigarette lighters, shoes, water bottles and pages torn from magazines.

There is no technology to discover these elaborate tunnels, agents rely only on human intelligence to find them.


Filed under: Charlie Moore • Mexico
soundoff (83 Responses)
  1. Ric

    Just imagine what greed can do. Investigating the names behind the tunel would help in the fight against drugs.

    December 10, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    3 years to build the tunnel and not yet complete – lot of work and effort expended on the tunnel the drug people now will not get to use. Hopefully, that hurt them some.

    Seems like with all our technology and satellites that there could be something that could pinpoint these tunnels technologically and get them closed down quicker.

    December 10, 2009 at 9:44 pm |
  3. Chris Smith

    The only way to end this madness is to Legalize drugs like alcohol and tobacco and regulate them the same. Education is the best prevention, not criminalization. These tunnels wouldn't exist if it weren't for the corrupt war on drugs.

    December 10, 2009 at 9:06 pm |
  4. Big Smotz

    What a great place to discharge & pump in raw sewage! Seems like a perfect way to get the message across.......

    December 10, 2009 at 7:27 pm |
  5. Ben H. Kissimmee, Fl.

    fill it with concrete or water

    December 10, 2009 at 5:30 pm |
  6. Michael from Richmond, VA

    Mexican Marijuana Sales in the United States account for over 60% of the Drug Cartels Profits. Without these profits the Cartels would not have the resources to fund their other illict activities. The root of the problem begins with Prohibition.

    December 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm |
  7. Isabel Siaba (Brazil)

    How many successful operations against drug smuggling are necessary to fund the construction and maintenance of a tunnel like this? – And how many tunnels there that have never been discovered?

    I think AC360 can make an interesting report about this problem

    December 10, 2009 at 4:02 pm |
  8. Michael from Richmond, VA

    Anderson... will you also be discussing the NEW National Poll that says 53% of Americans support Marijuana Legalization??? 68% also say that the War on Drugs is a failure.

    You guys don't like links so.... the poll was completed by Angus Reid Global Monitor... check it out!!!

    December 10, 2009 at 4:00 pm |
  9. Earl J

    Ok, Drugs, People, and god know what else may be transported into our country. Weapons of Mass Destruction.

    December 10, 2009 at 4:00 pm |
  10. David

    looks like a drug corridor to me
    One that was built by pros

    December 10, 2009 at 3:31 pm |
  11. Fred - Illinois

    Anderson: It’s amazing that these tunnels are still being discovered! With our current technology i.e. ability to produce images of the depth of the oceans and other parts of the globe to find oil, gas, etc., why can’t we use similar technology to detect underground tunnels in our border states? For example, we already employ satellites to help locate many of our natural resources. Is it possible that the USA could utilize some form of this technology via satellite to locate these underground tunnels? If this can’t be done at the present time, I believe we need to move quickly with the development of such technology.

    December 10, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  12. Isabel Siaba (Brazil)

    How many successful operations against drug smuggling are necessary to fund the construction and maintenance of a tunnel like this? – And how many tunnels there that have never been discovered?

    I envision that there are a lot of smuggling tunnels don't discovered and that the cost of tunnel one with air conditioning and electric transport is low compared with the potential rewards. Evidence that the cost is low is simply that they keep building them again and again. They wouldn't continue building the tunnels if they were not a profitable strategy.

    I think AC360 can make an interesting report about this problem. Thanks!

    December 10, 2009 at 2:16 pm |
  13. John

    "Paul -New Hampshire" you are the only who gets it.
    Basic, I'll flip this one around, demand and supply principles of Capitalism.

    December 10, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  14. reldorart.com

    This is very interesting news. I just can not beleive the courage and persevence that lead them to even think about thing like this one ...
    This just will just let you knw how hard the guys for law enforcement work and risque their live for us .
    Ceo

    December 10, 2009 at 1:54 pm |
  15. LP

    Comment on last statement of article, "There is no technology to discover these elaborate tunnels,"

    The Republic of Korea has had audio detection gear to identify/locate any digging of Tunnels for years. The tunnels that have been dug by the N. koreans are interstate hiways compared to these rat tunnels found in Mexico.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm |
  16. Rob

    With all the money the Government spends why can we get ground penetrating equipment and siemic activity meters in the area ? How about putting the military along the boarder and stoping every vehicle coming and going? Using the military equipment, helicopters, MRAPs, drones, infrared sensors would be a huge help and go along way to stem the drugs, murders, and kidnapping in the SW. Set up portable crime labs along the boarder to examine contraband and use the info for proscution and intel? Sending Items to be examined in DC takes too long.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  17. Deep

    It is all about demand and supply. Remember ?... We are capitalists.

    As long as hollywood keeps promoting the culture of sex and drugs and as long as the people are stupid enough to copy that, the show will go on.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  18. Jose

    The facade of a War on Drugs continues.

    Now I wonder who really makes money from this war.....hmmmm?

    December 10, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  19. Zontar, King of the Macaroni People

    You wanna stop illegal drugs from coming across the border through tunnels? Simple – make the illegal drugs legal. There is absolutely NO amount of law enforcement power sufficient enough to stop it, so stop wasting police resources and stop putting nonviolent drug users in prison.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  20. vanessa

    You can't put all the blame on Mexicans for things like this. They are simply meeting the basic suplly and demand business model. If people in the US weren't buying the drugs they wouldn't be so anxious to get them over here.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
  21. Wilma Dykphit

    We are enormous hypocrits for allowing the legal use of alcohol and considering marijuana illegal. People are spending tons of money that we could be taxing not to mention all of the law enforcement officials being put in harm's way. Its time to get this one right!

    December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
  22. feonix75

    Wow!! We really need to keep the Immigrants here, send them over to Houston and get all this construction done faster!!! You can't find a Naturalized American to do all that in three years!! And without the red tape of Permits!!!

    December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
  23. Shannon

    We have the technology to monitor earth quakes in the middle of the ocean, but not for people digging through rock south of SD?

    Maybe our govt can offer free rehab and try to get as many druggies to join programs that get them on their feet... less supply for these guys... more people that can pay their own way here and stop living off Section 8, food stamps, and Medicare.
    ah, can you imagine a country where people pay their own way...

    December 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  24. Eric in Colorado

    Denver already hires them to do our road projects with our stimulus dollars. Too bad we are paying illegals with our stimulus money allocated for JOBS FOR AMERICANS!!

    December 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm |
  25. Jamie

    Makes you wonder how many tunnels there are in operation, and not to mention how many there probably are in rual border areas...

    December 10, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  26. SD

    now why on earth would these people do something "good" that would benefit their country? greed for money will always win, dont believe me? look at some of our countrys leaders. you tell me that they did anyhting for the good of the country, or did they do it for $ ??
    Maybe Haliburton needs some extra laborers.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  27. Common Sense

    Ahh, they dug it, now let them serve time in it.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  28. Larry Bing

    There has to be some way to detect these tunnels when they're under construction. Some form of seismic or sonar detection equipment must be able to pick up the sound of jackhammers pounding into the rock.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  29. LJ

    its really only about 300 meters long – theres no way the border patrol should be that oblivious

    December 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  30. Fred

    Agents should have kept this quiet, then drop loads of rattlers in there. Then the smugglers would think twice about going into any tunnels..

    December 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  31. MIke Adams

    Makes you wonder what is going on with North and South Korea.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:20 pm |
  32. Jason Columbus

    I would bet that this is not the only tunnel. It just happens to be one of the few to be discovered.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  33. Aaron

    The things that drug cartels will do to get their drugs into this country are pretty crazy. It is good that they did find this tunnel because we never know if these cartels will join with some extremist group to bring some kind of weapon of mass destruction.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
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