Cross-Border Tunnel Entrance Found in San Diego In San Diego, authorities say they've located the U.S. exit to a "massive" cross-border tunnel that began near the Tijuana, Mexico, airport. Officials say the tunnel was apparently used for smuggling people or drugs.

Cross-Border Tunnel Entrance Found in San Diego

Cross-Border Tunnel Entrance Found in San Diego

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In San Diego, authorities say they've located the U.S. exit to a "massive" cross-border tunnel that began near the Tijuana, Mexico, airport. Officials say the tunnel was apparently used for smuggling people or drugs.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

U.S. officials in San Diego have unearthed a massive and highly sophisticated cross-border tunnel. The discovery is the latest in a string of such tunnels used for smuggling drugs and people from Mexico into the U.S. We're joined by reporter Amy Isackson from member station KPBS in San Diego. Amy, U.S. authorities just gave a briefing about this latest tunnel. What did they say?

AMY ISACKSON: They say it's the largest and most sophisticated tunnel they've discovered to date. It's almost a mile long and it's dug very deep underground. They say the tunnel has all the hallmarks of a major organized drug trafficking organization. On the Mexican side it's really well developed. It has a pulley system to load drugs in and out, it has lights, it has a ventilation system, and it even has pumps to get the groundwater out. Federal agents don't really have many details about the entrance on the U.S. side, because they've just gone in and they're exploring it right now.

NORRIS: And this is just the latest in a number of these tunnels. It sounds like there's almost a labyrinth underneath the border.

ISACKSON: Yeah, this is the fourth tunnel that they've found in San Diego in just the last few weeks. Since 9/11 and since they increased border enforcement, the number of tunnels has really gone up dramatically. In response the federal authorities have created a tunnel task force. They did that about two years ago, and they're continually searching for tunnels. They work in conjunction with U.S. military and also very closely with Mexican authorities.

NORRIS: Amy, you actually went to Mexico last night and saw the entrance to the tunnel on that side. Tell us what you saw.

ISACKSON: The entrance on the Mexican side is inside a warehouse. And the scene was, it was like a movie set. There were Mexican agents swarming about, they were all in masks. They, ski masks, they just had their eyes poking out. They all had enormous machineguns. They were ordered expressly not to talk to the press, so it was eerily quiet. And when we were allowed in, they'd set up an assembly line to take out the two tons of marijuana that they'd found inside the tunnel.

NORRIS: Two tons.

ISACKSON: Two tons.

NORRIS: Now what was the tunnel actually like inside?

ISAACSON: The entrance is like a mineshaft. It plunges about 75 feet straight down. And that leads to the passageway that's been carved out of the earth. And that's what runs for about a mile into the U.S. And the tunnel was equipped with a nice poured concrete floor, and it had electricity. The whole warehouse just reeked of marijuana, and I actually stunk when I came out of there. And I was worried, when I was crossing the border, that the drug-sniffing dogs were going to alert on me.

NORRIS: Now as we discussed, this is a, one of an increasing number of tunnels over the last few years. And I understand that the federal officials are actually saying this is a, is a good thing, in a way, that it shows the beefed up security at the borders since 9/11 is actually working.

ISACKSON: That is what they say. But my take on it, after covering the border for a bit, is that where there's a will, there is a way. And you build a fence in San Diego as they did about 10 years ago with Operation Gatekeeper, and that shifted the human traffic east since 9/11. And beefed up border enforcement, there's been all these tunnels. And they appear underground. And I think that they, you know, it literally pushes people underground, but I think of people want to get into the U.S., they, they'll come.

NORRIS: Amy, how, how does one build a tunnel like this without capturing the attention of the authorities? I mean, you say it had, it had electricity and concrete flooring.

ISACKSON: It's a very good question. And with this tunnel, I talked to people who were, who lived around it, and they said that they had no idea that there was anything even going on in this warehouse.

NORRIS: Thanks so much, Amy.

ISACKSON: You're welcome, thank you.

NORRIS: Amy Isackson from member station KPBS in San Diego.

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