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While we're looking the other way -- tunnels?

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I continue to be fascinated by the large number of tunnels dug between Mexico and the US in Arizona and California (New Mexico has few border towns to act as a terminus and Texas has the Rio Grande barrier). Tunnels have been used, for example, between Egypt and Palestinian Gaza. I have heard it said that 'anything that a man can hold in his arms' is already in Israel.

The discovery of the Calexico tunnel brought a moment of reflection. As of April 2003, 21 tunnels had been found since 1990 -- a number a thousand feet long. Drug traffickers are relying more on tunnels to avoid tightened US port security following 11 September. Four of the 21 tunnels had cart and rail systems while nine were equipped with lights and ventilation systems. Some had steel rails to support carts to be drawn through. Seven were in the San Diego County region and 14 were in the Arizona region. Twenty were near ports of entry.

Finding these tunnels is not simple. Soil and geological variations in concert with power line interference makes the use of radar, sonar and electromagnetic radiation tools problematic. Examination of likely areas in concert with background checks and property record examinations on persons of interest carry much of the load. Tipoffs and chance are a major boon.

The rising question is whether terrorists could, for a price, be permitted to smuggle weapons, components, and personnel into the US. If illicit drugs and aliens can be brought across, then terrorists or WMD components can also come across.

Tijuana has been a historically popular crossing point for Middle Eastern nations. Lebanese and Chaldeans (and Iraqi Catholic minority) have been well represented along with some Iraqis. (Mexico really began to pay attention after 11 September.)

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates a tunnel's cost between $800,000 and $1 million to build. That cost and the very high value of the cargo transported would seem to indicate that drogistas would not compromise an expensive asset for a one-shot 'rental,' but we have no guarantee. Besides, a clandestine terrorist may not identify themselves or their cargo and so pass through as one more illegal alien.

In the week after 11 September, I told colleagues that al Qaeda would be as hard to eradicate as drugs, in part because of the difficulty in eliminating illicit transnational channels of any kind. Anytime two or more of these channels even approach one another I have concern.

Tunnel is found near the border at Tecate
By Anna Cearley
June 18, 2003

A hole in security?
Border area seems even more vulnerable in the aftermath of 9/11
By Anna Cearley
May 7, 2003

U.S. drills for drug tunnels
Authorities believe they've found another cross-border route to Mexico
By Elliot Spagat
Associated Press
April 14, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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