The Drug Enforcement Administration says it has busted a significant cross-border, drug-smuggling tunnel and netted about 30 tons of marijuana seized at two warehouses in the United States and Mexico, two days after California voters shot down a proposition to legalize the personal use of marijuana.
Claiming another victory in the cat-and-mouse games played by drug smugglers along the Mexican border, the DEA and San Diego Tunnel Task Force said today the operation is one of the largest seizures to date involving drug-smuggling tunnels.
DEA officials said they believe the tunnel had been completed recently and may have been in operation for about a month.
The 1,800-foot underground tunnel linked a warehouse in Otey Mesa, Calif., with a similar sized building in Tijuana, Mexico. Agents and officers with the Tunnel Task Force, including the DEA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, had been conducting surveillance in the area when the officers noticed suspicious activity around a tractor-trailer truck being loaded and parked at the warehouse in Otey Mesa.
After the truck departed the warehouse, a police check-point was established so the truck could be searched. Border Patrol agents and officers discovered 10 tons of marijuana stuffed into large cargo boxes, according to law enforcement officials.
The driver of the truck and a passenger were arrested. Their identities have yet to be disclosed. A federal search warrant was then obtained to search the warehouse, where the Task Force discovered about 15 tons of marijuana and the portal to the tunnel.
U.S. officials contacted the Mexican military, which conducted a search of the warehouse in Tijuana where they discovered about 4 tons of marijuana.
DEA officials said the Mexican side of the tunnel was equipped with rails and lighting to send drug sleds toward the U.S. side of the tunnel, which DEA officials described as a crawl space. The DEA has estimated that the seized marijuana is worth $20 million.
The tunnel bust came after a seizure by Mexican authorities last month, when they made a record marijuana bust in the Tijuana area that totaled 134 tons.
"This seizure significantly disrupted the responsible cartel by stripping from it millions in potential drug profits," DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart said today.
The use of drug tunnels as a smuggling route inside the United States has increased in the past 10 years. The DEA established the Tunnel Task Force in 2003 to use a range of high-tech methods and intelligence information, along with surveillance methods, to root out the drug tunnels.
The number of tunnels began increasing with the task force's work in 2005. The trend is not isolated to the southern border.
The DEA discovered a drug tunnel across the U.S.-Canadian border in July 2005 leading from a marijuana greenhouse that led to a living room in a house on the U.S. side of the border.
One of the longest drug tunnels found by the Task Force was a 2,400-foot tunnel discovered by federal agents in 2006. The bust resulted in about 2 tons of marijuana being recovered.