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Smuggling tunnel found along Mexican border
Two tons of marijuana entered the U.S. through the secret passage

MSNBC | January 27, 2006

Agents along the Mexican border have uncovered one of the largest smuggling tunnels ever seen and about two tons of marijuana that was being brought into the U.S. The tunnel is hidden deep beneath the earth, runs from Tijuana, Mexico, to Otay Mesa, California. It is about 2,400 feet long, the length of eight football fields.

California State Senator Bill Morrow called on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency on the border upon the finding of the tunnel.

John Fernandes and Misha Paistro with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Juan Hernandez, former Mexican Migration Minster, as well as Senator Morrow joined ‘Live and Direct’ to talk about the amazing discovery.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

RITA COSBY, HOST, ‘LIVE AND DIRECT’: Misha, let me start with you. First of all, how did you make this discovery?

MISHA PIASTRO, DEA SPECIAL AGENT: Well, this was based on information we've been working with jointly with ICE and U.S. Border Patrol and the Mexican authorities over quite sometime.

COSBY: Was it human intelligence or did you stumble upon it? How did that come about?

PAISTRO: We have a variety of different ways that investigative techniques that we employ when we're doing investigations of this nature.

COSBY: Now, Misha, you went in the tunnels. We're looking at some pictures. What was it like? I mean, it just must have been astounding.

PAISTRO: It was. It was alarming. When you first get in there, it's obviously it's unrivalled by the other tunnels that we've seen recently along the southwest border. And I was really struck by the tremendous effort it must have taken to excavate this tunnel that was so long, as wide and as tall as it was, to excavate that dirt, get it out, secretly, and hide it, in order to conceal the construction of this tunnel.

COSBY: It is incredible. In fact, John, I want to ask you. I want to show, first of all, some of the mechanisms and design of this. Five feet wide. The ceilings are high enough for an adult to stand inside. It has a cement floor, lights on the walls, and even a pulley system. You know, is this one of the most elaborate system you've seen? And just to hit on what Misha was saying, how long do you think it took someone to construct this?

JOHN FERNANDES, DEA SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Well, not only is it the largest tunnel discovered along the U.S.-Mexican border, but it is extremely elaborate and very, very sophisticated in nature. And to the DEA and our intelligence-driven operations and investigations similar to this operation, this discovery, I think it's indicative of the operation or the organization behind the tunnel itself. So without question, I mean, there varying degrees of levels within the tunnel to provide a unique benefit to the traffickers.

COSBY: How long, John, do you think it would have taken to build something like this? And also, aren't you astounded this was right under your noses?

FERNANDES: Well, it's labor-intensive. And again, when they construct these tunnels, it's not as if, you know, when we see construction with the cranes, with the cranes outside and the buildings going up. This is done underground, and it's extremely difficult to monitor and track this type of activity.

COSBY: John, do you think several years to make or months? What are we talking, to build something as elaborate as this?

FERNANDES: Well, I could tell you part of our investigation, certainly, is an analysis. We'll do an analysis of the soil and of the materials. We have engineers involved with doing some follow-up on this. So we don't know exactly, but that's certainly part of our investigation.

COSBY: I know that two tons of marijuana were seized. But I'm also told you're doing some forensics to detect if anything else was being transported. What else are you looking for, John?

FERNANDES: That's correct. Well, certainly, you know, the discovery of tunnels is of great concern. Obviously, tunnels pose a significant threat to the safety and security of the American people. If tunnels could be used for trafficking and drugs, obviously they can also be used for trafficking in illegal aliens, trafficking in arms, explosives.

And, of course, we're very conscientious—I want to point out here along the southwest border, there is a very strong alliance between DEA and our other federal partners. And the irony here is I consider the discovery of tunnels as a success, because we've been successful in thwarting their efforts above ground along the southwest border, and we've generally driven them underground.

COSBY: You know, Misha, though, there has been a number of discoveries in San Diego, right? This is not the first one that we've seen, even just in the last few months?

PAISTRO: That's correct. I think this is the fourth this year, but, again, by far the most elaborate.

COSBY: Senator Morrow, how outraged, when you hear about this discovery?

BILL MORROW ®, CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR: Well, I'm outraged about what's happening with illegal immigration in general, but, no, I'm delighted that this is a law enforcement success. And I think the Drug Enforcement Agency official hit it right on the button. The fence I mean, this demonstrates that the border fence is a success. We're driving them underground. It makes it easier to find them, in that respect.

COSBY: And, Juan, let me get you to respond to what what a U.S. Customs agents said earlier today.

You know, Juan, this is obviously pretty serious stuff, if something were to be transported in a tunnel, like we've seen. Is the Mexican government doing enough?

JUAN HERNANDEZ, FORMER MEXICAN MIGRATION MINISTER: Well, yes, I believe so. This tunnel was discovered by Mexico. And I think that we should be applauding Mexico.

I think that it's important that we have this type of debate going on. And I'm glad that you have these guests on, Rita, because this is also a debate that's going on within the hearts, I think, of most Americans.

After September 11th, we do have some fear there related to terrorism, but we have to remember who the enemy is. The enemy is not Mexico. The enemy is very clearly the drug trafficker. The enemy is the pusher in our schools in the United States. Once again, the enemy is not Mexico. Thank you, Mexico, for fining that tunnel.

COSBY: No, and absolutely, look, they did do a good job. It was a cooperative effort, as we just heard.

You know, Senator Morrow, last night we have a sheriff on, on the flip side. And it brings out the bigger picture, because the sheriff was talking about a recent seizure that was taking place and some Humvees were caught in the crowd. Guys were wearing military uniforms, Mexican military uniforms.

Senator Morrow, what's the solution?

MORROW: Well, it is an everyday occurrence. And border officials have acknowledged that for sometime. And we've had these types of encouragements for sometime. And we need to do something about it, I can tell you, you wouldn't have these drive-overs by Mexican army officials in Humvees or anybody else, drug agents or anybody else, if you had a fence along the border. They would have to do what apparently they did in this case, which took an incredible amount, I'm sure, of time and expense, and was very costly to build that tunnel. They have to be driven underground.

COSBY: Juan, what about the fence?

HERNANDEZ: Well, we have to remember that the people south of our border are our friends. They're our number-two partner, number-two trading partner. And by the way, there are 42 millions of Hispanics who have families south of the border.

We're not talking about the enemy. The enemy is the drug trafficker, the who traffics with people also. And by the way, God bless those immigrants that the other people have been bashing here on your show. They are doing wonderful things for our nation in the United States.

COSBY: Senator Morrow, what do you have to say? And also, what these group, these vigilante groups, like Minutemen and those others, who are sort of taking it into their own hands?

MORROW: Well, I mean, look, I am a Minuteman. I've been there. I've seen the border. And I'm kind of scratching my head.

I mean, there are so many areas where you don't have to go to this elaborate tunnel, you can just go drive across, as is happening, you've heard officials are acknowledging.

What we need to do is to extend the border fence everywhere that we can to make it as difficult and as costly as possible. I mean, look, we're talking about we're talking about drug smuggling. We are talking about illegal immigration. We are talking about, yes, the possibility of incursion by terrorists. But more than anything else, we're talking about America's right and obligation, sovereign opportunity to secure its own borders.

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