Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Drug Tunnel Discovery Signals New Cartel In Town

Francisco Vega/AFP/Getty Images
A Mexican soldier patrols the tunnel discovered on Thanksgiving Day at a warehouse in
By: John Burnett

Federal authorities are questioning suspected drug smugglers to learn more about a tunnel trafficking operation uncovered on Thanksgiving Day. It's the second sophisticated smuggling tunnel between Tijuana and San Diego that agents have discovered this month, and it's more evidence that a new cartel has muscled into Tijuana.

The tunnel found Thursday is nearly a half-mile long, extending from under the kitchen floor of a house in Tijuana to a pair of warehouses in the Otay Mesa industrial district of San Diego.

It has ventilation, electricity, a cinder-block entryway and a rail system for a small cart to move drugs into the U.S. Of the 76 cross-border drug tunnels discovered in the past four years, the Thanksgiving Day tunnel is one of the most elaborate officials have come across, according to Mike Unzueta, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in San Diego. He says losing the tunnel is bad for cartel business.

"It can't but hurt," he says. "Potentially, we're looking at a year or longer to construct something with this level of sophistication, and upwards of a million dollars in terms of the cost." Unzueta said smugglers hand-dug the channel in hard clay soil with an electric jack-hammer.

More Tunnels, More Tactics

Acting on a tip Thursday, federal agents followed a tractor-trailer from the warehouse to a border patrol checkpoint. Investigators found 20 tons of pot and arrested three men in the U.S.; the Mexican military arrested five more. The arrests led to the discovery of the tunnel.

Federal agents discovered a similarly constructed tunnel on Nov. 2, connecting warehouses in Mexico and the U.S. They recovered more than 30 tons of cannabis in that bust.

Francisco Vega/AFP/Getty Images
A Mexican soldier peers into the entrance of the tunnel from a Tijuana kitchen.

"The more we have tried to fortify and beef up border security, the more we have driven cartels underground, or out into the ocean, or more ingenious, clandestine methods of moving products across the border," says David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute of the University of San Diego.

Sinaloans Expand Their Turf

Federal investigators believe both underground passageways were under the control of the Sinaloa Cartel, which is run by Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, the world's most wanted drug lord.

What's important is that the Tijuana smuggling corridor has traditionally been controlled by the Tijuana Cartel, which is run by the Arellano Felix family. The recent tunnel discoveries confirm that the Sinaloans have expanded their turf — by brutality and negotiation — and now have a solid foothold in Tijuana, Shirk says.

"The tunnel itself is not demonstrating any new characteristics — it's big, it's loaded with marijuana, and we've seen that before," Shirk says. "But what we haven't seen before this close to the Tijuana corridor is a Sinaloa operation of this magnitude."

The victory celebration among U.S. cops may be short-lived. If the past is a guide, Mexican drug smugglers will simply start digging new tunnels.


  1. This is nothing really new for anyone following Tijuana close, I don't have all the facts, and I don't know who does, besides those in it, but my personal theory (with bits stolen from the internet) is that Sinaloa and Tijuana (CAF, under Fernando Sanchez Arellano) have a working agreement/relationship, and have had one from at least late 2009, when Teo lost the support from Sinaloa. I think it's clear that they are not fighting eachother for Tijuana, because although there is violence/execuetions it doesn't seem to be at the level of conflict relating with a turf war. Internal conflict between various groups/cells, yes, but straight war? Doesn't look like it.

    Smart move by both parties, reminds me a little of 'State of Grace' (1991 movie), with the smaller Irish mafia working with longtime rivals to continue prospering. It also would explain some of the turmoil in Inge's organization as longtime members question the agreement. However, El Ingeniero is a college man, probably more prone to tactical maneuvers than bloody warfare. But, this is all theory, very little confirmed by anything official, the two groups could very easily be going at it right now.

  2. If the agents had waited longer after the checkpoint, they would now know who from the US - Border patrol was in the cartel's payroll. One hint for US authorities: "whoever was appointed to be checking at the time the big truck was caught, he/she is in cartel's payroll" Do you think the cartel will risk so much drug to be caught by the US - border patrol? If you observe the pictures from the load, the cartel did not even try to disguise the load... reason? it was a sure thing... this is something Mexicans have been complaining for a while, how is it possible that once drugs reach the border they reach New York?

  3. "The victory celebration among U.S. cops may be short-lived. If the past is a guide, Mexican drug smugglers will simply start digging new tunnels".

    This is true and 1 million dollars to build this type of tunnel is not significant to these cartels.
    However, the time it takes to build the tunnel is very significant! Now that the U.S. and Mexico are more aware of this method, they will be keeping a closer eye on it. I suspect we will learn of more tunnels being discovered and more arrests being made in the near future, particularly during the construction phase.

  4. How many 1million dollar tunnels can el chapo build if his annual income is 1 billion! For every tunnel they find he has 10 more. He has everyone paid even felipe calderon the rest of his cabinet. Hes more guarded than president obama. He has more security than our own president. The guy is smart...

  5. i think one billion is a thousand one thousand tunnels...

  6. I stand by my opinion that Chapo will make a run to completely control TJ. DTOs have not loyalty to others and any agreement they may/may not have is irrelevant. An increasing car sinaloa car plates for the past 3 months and the info from of DEA & DOJ leads me to conclude Chapo will make a run for several territories including TJ, TAMPS and Acuña/piedras this year. The year of Chapo, if so will be a bloody one.

    Tunnels are abundant. The thing is a skewed theory that follow the DTO activity and you will find them makes no sense. As a friend pointed out, california has the seismic technology to find these suckers...why not use it?

  7. Chi-town_KID

    These tunnels were kind of obvious back when they made that 100+ ton bust in T.J. why else would DTO's Stock pile product like that so close to the border? I wonder how close in proximity these to sites where to the 100+ ton load?


  9. If tunnels are such a problem (which they should be considered by both countries)Why doesn't someone just do a sweep of the border and collapse the tunnels instead of "waiting" to happen upon them one at a time?

    I don't know all that much about technology, but it seems tools used by Geologists/Seismologists could be used to detect all of these tunnels along the entire border..

  10. The technology is good, but it is not the answer.. I spoke to one the creaters of such vehicles back in 08.. At the Border Security Meetings at UTEP.. And they said that it only checks small portions at a time. They usually check areas where they think the tunnel is. It a truck that needs to be parked right above the tunnel or nearby, lets say 5 meters, then it plants some beams on the floors and it sends shockwaves. From those waves it can tell if there is nothing but earth underneath or there is somekind of hollow area.. It is still pretty primitive.. Like the guy above said, we need to see which BP agent was patrolling that area at that time, most likely than not, he is on the payroll.

  11. As long as there are snitchs who are willing to take reward money these tunnels will continue to be found..

  12. The americans should wait for those dirty rats to exit the tunnel then than take them over to George Bushs house for his special enhanced interrogagtion tactics.....
    Once George is done with them we'll have all of the answers.

  13. What are the chances that this tunnel
    was in fact started on the San Diego
    side and ended up in the kitchen of
    the Mexican side? It will not surprise
    me to learn one day that the U.S. has
    always been playing the fear card and
    has even suggested of sending U.S. forces into Mexico to fight the drug
    war. Hilary Clinton said plans were
    being considered. Soon we will start
    hearing that a Mexican Leader change
    is needed, just like in Iraq, then invade. Or better yet, lets Nuke em,
    just ask Lindsey Graham. He will tell

  14. I see nothing in this article that can confirms that these tunnels belong to the Sinaloa cartel. The caf organization has been using tunnels for decades to move their product across the border, do some research. El ingenerio is not just going to give up his plaza to anyone, just ask the zetas who were invited there by Benjamin only to be ordered to be killed by frenando Sanchez after benjamin's arrest. I understand that chapo is a powerful person, but he does not posses god like powers. Him taking over every plaza in Mexico is just not possible. Look at the resistance he has been met with in Juarez, the plaza still belongs to the carrilo orginazation. I know that some believe he has super human powers and has every single person in Mexico on his payroll, if this was the case he would not worry about the military and returning to prison.

  15. Good post, but Fernando was in college when Benjamen was arrested, and if he was involved he was still a junior in every since, he assumed a leadership role when Javier Francisco was arrested in 2006. However, the Zeta's were sent to Tijuana, and apparently repelled with ease, because no one ever heard much about it.

    Also, I don't know about the tunnel, but the Sinaloa cartel is operating in Tijuana. That's fact.

  16. I highly believe more tunnels are somewhere out there that is yet to be found. Not everyone on the earth know where all the tunnels are base, except for God.

    Mexico would not have made tunnels if the country became an isolated land - not connecting to other foreign countries to make an one land, unless Mexicans can find another way to get to other countries by using submarine? Under water tunnels? Who knows.

  17. Hey J, I also think CAF and Sinaloa worked out an agreement to have Sinaloan traffic go through TJ. However, I fear it's just a matter of time before CAF is completely forced out of the city, or becomes part of Sinaloa. Do you know if Sanchez Arellano is in Tijuana? Last I heard he was in some part of SDand hardly sets foot in Tijuana.

  18. I don't think Sinaloa will to that, at least in this lifetime, under Chapo and Mayo. They have a nightmare on their hands from a work and PR perspective in Juarez, and Tijuana will be just as bad, if not worse, CAF isn't dirty like Linea, but they have deep pockets to go to war, from my understanding.

    As far as Inge's location, I don't know anymore then anyone, but he'd be really risking it in Tijuana, they are pressing him hard, wanted posters everywhere, most wanted man in the city, he'd be smart to be overseas or anywhere else but TJ. And I believe he is very smart and capable, having survived the last few years, and prospering. I think Tijuana will always be CAF's, they just had to go with the lesser of two evils, cuz Sinaloa also offers protection from Zeta's, Beltran Leyva, Juarez, etc.

  19. It could be a Sinaloa tunnel. I thought El Mayo had a working arraingment with The Arellanos to transport his drug thru Tijuana. Wasnt that big bust last month in TJ Mayos weed?

  20. You all are like school girls talking shit that you know nothing about.... silly , silly girls

  21. Hey j since u luv el chapos nuts y cant he take over juarez y did he have abl killed y couldnt he take over nl hahahahaha ??? your fact is opinon

  22. This is a forum/comments section, of course we talk about 'what we know nothing about', which may be true, but what are you doing? Making accusatory statements that elude to you being some sort of insider, while offering nothing to the discussion?

    The other guy, why would you say that? What have I said that makes you think I am some Chapo supporter?


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