12/2/11- “The second largest pot bust in U.S. history” occurred Tuesday in an operation the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency described as “a major victory” over Mexican drug cartels. Investigators discovered a massive drug smuggling tunnel Tuesday inside a San Diego, California produce warehouse a few blocks north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The six month investigation conducted by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force (SDTTF) yielded the seizure of 32 tons of marijuana at a value of $65,000,000 with the Mexican entry point in a building in Tijuana with a 30-foot hydraulic elevator and the U.S. exit, a small square hole hidden in an Otay Mesa warehouse.
The 600 yard tunnel, described as “ a highly efficient mechanism” by San Diego Tunnel Task Force authorities had supported passageways, wood floors, lights, a hydraulic elevator, wooden stairs, and rail cars. During the past five years, seven major drug tunnels have been found in the San Diego-Tijuana region by the the SDTTF, a team of agents from ICE, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Border Patrol, and Customs and Border Protection. The Washington Post reports that more than 70 passages have been found on the border since October 2008.
Some authorities argue that this type of major bust is common during the pre-holiday season. William Sherman, the DEA’s acting special agent in San Diego stated, ” Drug traffickers also may go on a pre-Christmas smuggling push to give themselves a little bit of hiatus over the holidays to visit family in Mexico. DEA wiretaps tend to go quiet during the holidays.”
Other analysts suggest that drug smuggling busts are peaking since it is Mexico’s marijuana harvesting season and there is more product to ship. The clearest prediction of the meaning behind the recent large seizures is the shift in Mexican cartel control over smuggling routes. It is often believed that the Sinaloa cartel has taken over the former Arellano-Felix cartel routes in Baja California, specifically Tijuana routes to the United States and has effectively created a “boom” in production and smuggling.
In relation to the finding of the this most recent tunnel, six suspects have been arrested on the U.S. side with no arrests on the Mexican side of the border. The Mexican entry point was on the same block as a federal police office and on the edge of the runway at Tijuana International Airport. In recent years, cartels have changed their routes from across the border smuggling to literally under the border smuggling, with border areas like San Diego and Imperial County providing the ideal clay soil for sturdy tunnels. The amount of tunnels found does not seem to faze the San Diego Tunnel Task Force or other officials. Laura Duffy, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, delivered a clear message to all smugglers: “If you build it, we will find it, and when we find it, we will destroy it”.