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. MM

    I think the ultimate irony would be if those who were caught were put to work on constructing the border wall. Sounds like they also need to build an underground border wall. Bill Murray needs to head down to take care of all the tunnels by putting a garden hose in one end, or a squirrel fashioned from plastic explosives.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  2. Rosie

    Before long they're going to have a two lane highway down there!

    December 10, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  3. Jason

    I live in Arizona and this is nothing new, at one point there was a tunnel that ran from a warehouse in Mexico to home in Douglas,Az. you want to talk about engeniering they had a shack inside the warehouse lift up by hydralics and at the house they had the pool table lift up the same way and the tunnle was reinforced with concreat, now that a tunnel

    December 10, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  4. Tab

    They should have let the villains finished their work while watching them very closely and carefully , to catch them all at the opportune time red-handed, including the mastermind – not just few (maybe) hired workers.
    Who knows, other tunnels out there may be fully functional. This one may just be a dummy or decoy. How much does a tunnel cost? Those Drug lords are multi-billionaires.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  5. Mark

    Very interesting comments, I must say. Let's also be aware that the men and/or women digging these tunnels are probably 13-18 years old. Simply laborers digging with primitive tools for the mob bosses, working 16 hour days and then sleeping in the same tunnel they dig.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  6. Carl

    This may seem obvious, but as long as Americans want to get high, there will always be a supply.

    December 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  7. Nafzak

    I am sure that they were paid next to nothing by teh drug lords, so why not get these talented guys some visas to the US and put them to work overe here immediately.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  8. Norm

    A lot of money behind the drug and illegal alien network.
    I wouldn't be surprised if there were giant tunnels big enough to drive trucks through, that no one has found yet. Then again, they are dealing with one of the most incompetant and usually corrupt law enforcement agencies in the world.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  9. Matthew

    Wow, these tunnel engineers should be motivational speakers in our school to motivate kids to love science and ingenuity. But they should first clean up their minds and use their God given talents to good use.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:57 pm |
  10. Victoria

    Unfortunately for us Mexicans, this kind of stuff happens. But the blame is for all to share. As long as there is a demand, there will be an offer. And apparently these guys will go to any length to keep doing what they do. Would look closer for more of these engineering marvels.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  11. Seth

    Last time I was in Mexico (about 7 years ago) this guy I was talking to at the bar told me that he saw a tunnel near Nogales, Son. that was so elaborate that it fit two way golf cart traffic. He said they ran 24/7 – drugs and people into the US and guns and ammo back into Mexico.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  12. Jason

    If the states would just legalize marijuana, the majority of this crap would go away and our economy might strengthen. Unfortunatly there are brainwashed dolts like Paul from N.H. that actually think that "more law enforcement" is the answer.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm |
  13. dennis in Miami

    This tunnel has been 3 years in the works. What about the tunnel that was completed 3 years ago? There must be multiple tunnels that will never be found. This country needs illegal drugs to continue to be profitable in the most lucrtive industry, Rehabilitation! From the court systems to the jails, its all about money.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm |
  14. C.Parks

    Find it hard to believe that there is no technology to find tunnels.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:46 pm |
  15. yoyo

    ICE and DEA were not the ones whofound this tunnel. It says mexican officials, but i guess let ICE andDEAnd who ever else take the credit for it. they always do anyway.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  16. Fazal Wali

    Egypt is planning to build underground wall made of steel in order to avoide tunnel building. Whey can't we do something similar here in the US.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:38 pm |
  17. Roberta

    If only they'd use their powers for good!

    December 10, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  18. David

    Where did the hundreds of tons of removed dirt/rock go?!

    December 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  19. kids next door

    Bring the soldiers home,put them fifty feet a part from one end of the boarder to the other end.when this happen crossing the boarder crosser will stop,trust-me.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  20. Dave O

    A lighted tunnel with a hidden entrance in a bathroom in Mexico? These guys must have gotten that idea from Weeds!

    December 10, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  21. Lu

    Wow!!! Billions of $ in the make for a big price both ways (drogs & people this way, wepons that way). Thanks to the men and woman in uniform for stoping this one.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  22. Jeff

    Seems to have been pretty well though out South of the border. What would it have been like on the North side? It would be pretty convienient if there was another building that close to tie into.

    Without supporting the purpose, I am pretty impressed by this.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:27 pm |
  23. Cassandra

    This is exactly why the border wall is a complete waste of American money. These people are inovative. If they can't climb over it, they'll go under it. Why is it automatically assumed it's all about drugs too...did they find any? This could easily be a human trafficing tunnel in the works. Some imigrants pay up to $5000.00ea for help crossing the border safely.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  24. matt

    Very interesting story, looking forward to seeing it tonight. Also some interesting comments. I agree with those saying that where there is demand, there is supply. They don't dig tunnels and build this type of criminal infrastructure without knowing that it will pay huge dividends.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  25. Karen

    I am sure that these tunnels are not used only for drugs, we should be preparing for the next act of terrorism...instead of listening to all the love affairs Tiger Woods engages in.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  26. Dale

    I feel for the Mexican people and what they suffer from the drug addicted people in the United States. I am for closing the US/Mexico border if only to protect the Mexican people from the side effects of the US demand for illegal drugs.

    All of these tunnels are paid for with hard cash from US citizens buying drugs!! A large portion of the violence we read about in Mexico is caused by us.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm |
  27. JJ

    I'm sure it is one of many tunnels. Where there is a market, there will always be a means to ensure supply. Legalize and regulate or continue the same cycle of cat and mouse.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  28. Heywood Jablomey

    Wow, I bet the border is like swiss cheese with all the tunnels under it.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  29. Russ

    If law enforcement found people in the tunnel and law enforcement think the perpetrators were highly skilled, where did these people received their training? Do I even want to know the scary answer?

    December 10, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  30. Victor

    Sadly, acts like this gives us all Mexicans a bad name. But we must all realize that it is individuals, regardless of their nationality, on both sides of the border that are working ilegally to make millions on drug trafficking. And they'll do whatever it takes, with lots of creativity, to get what they want.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  31. gene

    It is as simple as "supply and demand". With the demand for drugs, and the money to purchase them, the supply will always be there.
    The US has stopped their " War on Drugs" and outsourced it to Mexico. Stop putting the blame on Mexico and put the blame on the USA and Canada¨s demand for the drugs.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:01 pm |
  32. Greg

    Wow, glad it was discovered. Make certain it gets distroyed.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  33. Chuy

    I bet whoever told authorities about this tunnel was probably working for a rival cartel.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  34. Anne

    With all this sophistication I'm sure they could find a legal way to contribute to society. I used to think criminals were victims of society, but sadly, this contributes to my more current view that people can make different choices and are responsible for all their choices.
    Who knows where other tunnels are or what they're being used to transport.
    Great work by those agencies and great reporting! Hope Homeland Security is watching your show tonight.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  35. Janet - New York

    I cannot imagine being desperate (or crooked) enough to travel in that tunnel. These people are ridiculous. Imagine if they put their ideas to legal, good uses?

    December 10, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  36. binyam

    How desperate these people are, wow. It seems this is the beginning, what else to expect?

    December 10, 2009 at 11:29 am |
  37. liz

    Wow, obviously whomever was behind this project very highly intelligent! If they had not been caught, this would've been a billion dollar business...amazing!

    December 10, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  38. Andrew

    I'm sure this is only one of many tunnels that the border is riddled with. I think agents just happen to get lucky and find this one before it was finished.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:26 am |
  39. Jim

    Score one for the good guys: Great work ICE, Border Patrol and DEA. This find should be leading the national news. The people that swore to protect us are doing their jobs. I guess it would only lead the national news if the Agents did something wrong; never something RIGHT!!

    December 10, 2009 at 11:25 am |
  40. unsituated

    wow, they found another one. big surprise there.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:24 am |
  41. Ravensun

    Y'know... if they put this type of ingenuity into fixing their economy instead of running drugs, Mexico might stand a chance...

    December 10, 2009 at 11:24 am |
  42. Paul -New Hampshire

    Yet another example of the extremes drug exporters will go to when there is a huge well funded market for drugs here in the US. When are we going to realize that no amount of border enforcement will stop the flow of drugs, you have to stop the demand. Education and enforcement of drug use laws is the only way. People who use drugs are implicitly responsible for the murder of drug enforcement agents, police officers and innocent people caught in the way. Drug users should be tried for those crimes in both criminal and civil courts. Stopping the demand is the only way to stop the drug exporters.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:23 am |
  43. doug

    imagine if you legalized the drug trade and collected taxes from it, these criminals would have no need to dig underground tunnels!

    Prohibition in the 1920's led to a black market and organized crime. They say that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Our leaders are not learning from the mistakes of prohibition. Imagine if they forgot the lessons learned during WW2!

    December 10, 2009 at 11:20 am |
  44. Brent

    pretty crazy stuff, makes you wonder what else had been done besides these tunnels to move across from one country to the next.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:19 am |
  45. Kevin

    Does this really amaze anyone ? If the law enforcement is not going to enforce laws, then what stops these folks from doing what it takes to get into the country illegally.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:12 am |
  46. Jack

    Just remember: where there is 1, there are 3. keep looking.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:11 am |
  47. Mark S.

    Maybe we should hire the builders and put them to work repairing U.S. infrastructure projects. Obviously, they have a lot of initiative.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:10 am |
  48. Becca NYC

    Maybe we should get these guys to help the MTA move along construction on the 2nd Avenue subway.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:08 am |
  49. Jennifer - Michigan

    Wow, it's interesting to read about the intricate entrance of these tunnels, trap doors and all. Crazy. Kind of reminds me of the movie Superman – remember Lex Luther's secret train station hideaway. Miss Teschmacher!!
    Could it be that's where they got the idea? Anyway, looking forward to your report tonight. Thanks for all your hard work.

    December 10, 2009 at 10:58 am |
  50. Cindy

    Man..that tunnel was elaborate indeed!! I think I'd be scared to be down in it though even with all of the work they put into it.

    Good thing it was found when it was or there is no telling how much drugs or people they would have gotten into the U.S. with this thing.

    Looking forward to seeing Cooper rambling around in there tonight!


    December 10, 2009 at 10:46 am |
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