Immigration and Customs Enforcement has just issued a press release saying that they had found a major new tunnel under the U.S. /Mexico border south of San Diego.
It was half a mile long, had two entrances on the U.S. side and one in Mexico, and the tunnel was equipped with, the release said, "advanced rail, electrical and ventilation systems."
While it is nice to know that these crooks are thoughtful enough about the welfare of their staff to supply them with nice, fresh air in the tunnel, there are some other matters to consider.
The tunnel, when found, was in full operation, and ICE seized 20 tons of marijuana. I have little first-hand knowledge of such things, but marijuana consists of dried leaves, and even if compressed, it must occupy about as much space as baled hay (something I do know something about). Now 400,000 pounds of hay or marijuana would fill a large building, and hauling it through a tunnel would take considerable time and effort.
In other words, this is a huge operation, and by definition was not detected by either U.S. or Mexican authorities until well after it opened, so this question:
Should ICE be congratulated for finding it (which is the underlying tone of the press release) or chastised for not doing so long before the first shipment took place?
It is not that tunnels under the U.S. border, at San Diego and Nogales (and probably lots of other places as well), are unusual. The press release speaks of finding a somewhat less sophisticated tunnel in the San Diego area some three weeks earlier, and finding 75 such tunnels in California and Arizona in recent years.
And digging under a fortified perimeter dates back to the Middle Ages, if not earlier.
Further, digging a tunnel creates a lot of extra dirt and rocks. Let's assume that the tunnel is only five feet wide and four feet high, and that it is 2,500 feet long (a mile being 5,280 feet).
This would indicate that someone would have to find a space, presumably in Mexico, for 50,000 cubic feet of soil, a pile of dirt that would probably fill 50 very large dump trucks. If the tunnel is a little wider or higher, or both, that could be 100,000 cubic feet of excess dirt. Each of the dump trucks would have to leave a location, by definition, within less than half a mile from the border.
And while it is not hard to visualize the Mexican authorities ignoring such suspicious activities, one should remember that archeologists have long had electronic sensing equipment that can tell whether out-of-sight dirt, many feet underground, has been disturbed or not.
A scenario: you are a Full Professor of Archeology at UC/San Diego; you have had trouble getting research grants for your digs and some of your grad students have to spend their summers inputting data to earn some money: they are thinking of switching disciplines. Suddenly your department gets a consulting contract with the Border Patrol to help them find and map the tunnels along the border.
Returning to the discovery, ICE should have seen the marijuana subway coming, and been there to arrest the first people popping out of the hole.
Is the southern border as secure as DHS Secretary Napolitano says it is, when people can build a little railroad under it, and operate it without the authorities noticing?