Fears Of Unholy Alliances Emerge As Mexican DTO Tunnel
By Joseph J. Kolb
The discovery of a sophisticated narcotics smuggling tunnel extending
from Tijuana, Mexico to an industrial park in southern San Diego
County in October is not only a harbinger for smuggling operations
by Mexican drug trafficking organizations but also fertile ground
for "unholy alliances" with terrorist organizations
spurring concern that detection methods by the Department of Homeland
Security need to be improved and amplified to reflect this new
Since 1990 more than 140 cross-border tunnels have been discovered
along the southwest border of the United States, according to
a 2012 Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector
General report with an 80 percent increase in tunnel activity
occurring since 2008. What was vaguely addressed is how the majority
of these tunnels have not been found until completed and at or
near fully operational status.
"Tunnels are definitely the new paradigm for smuggling organizations
that have to adjust to the constriction caused by border security
strategies and the residual circumstances of a chaotic border," said
Victor M. Manjarrez, Jr., Associate Director, National Center
for Border Security & Immigration, at the University of Texas-El
Paso. "I expect as border security efforts improve and options
for the criminal element are further reduced, they will turn to
other means such as tunnels"
Manjarrez believes this proliferation of tunnels is a direct result
of increased and improved border security efforts along the southwest
border, however, what is occurring underground remains somewhat
In the most recent discovery on Oct. 29, federal agents found
a 600 yard long tunnel that ran 35 feet deep under the border
fence from Tijuana to Otay Mesa in southeast San Diego County,
retrieving 17,292 pounds of marijuana and 325 pounds of cocaine
from the tunnel, allegedly constructed by the Sinaloa Drug Trafficking
This discovery came as no surprise to Manjarrez who has seen
firsthand the trends in smuggling after a 20 year career with
the U.S. Border Patrol where he commanded the busy Tucson, Ariz.
and El Paso, Texas, sectors.
It is the potential exploitation of these tunnels as potential
conduits for terrorist groups to infiltrate the U.S. that has
not fully reached a critical level of concern. With the full understanding
that transnational criminal organizations work on no ideology
and are profit motivated, the potential for these foreign terrorist
organizations to name a price for passage is not unrealistic.
Cross-border tunnels are a result of transnational criminal organizations
seeking new and dynamic methods to smuggle their illicit contraband
which could be anything from narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, or
aliens from special interest countries. This opportunity may be
a costly business expense to the drug trafficking organization,
with tunnels costing in excess of $1 million, but with the majority
being found after they become operational the cost is worth it,
as well as the collateral business opportunities that could arise.
"We know the FBI is concerned that tunnels could be used
to smuggle WMD and/or terrorists into the U.S.," Triston
Reed, Mexico Security analyst for STRATOR, a private security
analysis firm says. "You also don't know what you don't know,
so how do we know tunnels haven't been used to bring terrorists
into the U.S.?"
What's particularly concerning is that above ground, smugglers
can only transport what can be concealed among legitimate goods
or carried across expansive terrain. With rail systems and ventilation
in tunnels directly entering populated areas, smugglers can transport
anything they want with less focus on concealment.
Reed's comment of what is and isn't known is more profound than
Opinions conflict as to the presence and even the assistance
of extremist groups involved in the financing and construction
of the tunnels. In the absence of concrete intelligence, observers
are evaluating startling similarities. Tunnels are used to cross
guarded borders all over the world, such as in Rafah in the Gaza
strip where weapons, drugs, and militants can cross through.
There is a known presence of Hezbollah in Mexico and Latin America.
While they are purported not to be operationally motivated rather
than funding, the specter can't be ignored. Beyond the construction
similarities between the DTO tunnels and those found in Gaza is
the confirmed presence of Hezbollah and Iranian Quds in Mexico
and the nexus with DTOs. And while we don't know if they have
infiltrated the U.S. subterrainially, there is no doubt, through
official confirmation, that Somalis allegedly connect to Al Ahabaab,
Yeminis, Iranians, Sudanese, and Afghans, have all crossed the
The problem that exists is that there is no reliable technology
in place to accurately detect the presence of tunnel construction
activity. Manjarrez says it is very difficult to detect a tunnel
as it is being constructed to enter the United States because
the criminal element is very protective and limits the 'need to
know' on their side.
Manjarrez agrees this is just a first step
towards addressing the issue of smuggling tunnels, but further
efforts may need to look
at geologic surveys to identify areas where cross-border tunneling
could be most likely. In addition there should be more specific
use of seismic detectors as well as being just as diligent with
About the Author
Joseph J. Kolb is an instructor in the Criminal Justice Department
at Western New Mexico University. He founded the department's
undergraduate and graduate certificate program in Border Security
This is only a partial version
of the article published in the latest Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland
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