Monday, November 29, 2010
U.S. federal authorities are going door to door in San Diego warning warehouse owners near the U.S. Mexico border to watch out for tunnelers.
Tunnel Task Force Flier (pdf)
Authorities with the Federal Tunnel Task Force are passing out fliers to warehouse owners in Otay Mesa -- the industrial area just a few hundred feet from the border fence.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack says it an area where authorities have seen a growing number of tunnels inside warehouses in the last few years. "So, this outreach program is to provide those warehouse owners with information," says Mack.
Authorities have unearthed two sophisticated drug smuggling tunnels in Otay Mesa in the last month. Both had rail systems, one with a motorized cart, to move bales of drugs from Tijuana to San Diego. The tunnel discovered on Thanksgiving had two entrances on the US side. Authorities have seized more than 50 tons of marijuana in connection with the underground passageways.
The flier federal agents are passing out asks people to report subterranean noises, unexplained vibrations and the odor of marijuana. It also asks warehouse owners to keep an eye out for renters who pay in cash, are unusually withdrawn, or keep unusual business hours.
Mack says in the course of passing out fliers to warehouse owners, "We also hope to establish a relationship with the owners so they can certainly call us if they see something suspicious."
Smugglers have built 77 cross-border tunnels along the southwest border in the last nine years. Many are so-called "gopher holes", or crude passageways scooped out beneath the border fence. Others are sophisticated subterranean construction projects with lights, ventilation and rail tracks to transport drugs.
Both of the recently discovered tunnels began in Tijuana buildings, traveled hundreds of yards underneath the border fence, and popped up inside Otay Mesa warehouses.