Inside the Incredible Booming Subterranean Marijuana Railroad

In a lengthy article for GQ Jason Kersten reports that “The Feds can’t see them. Or hear the digging. They don’t know how many there are or where they are headed. They know only that the tunnels are coming. And when they cross our border, when the soil gives way and the drugs start flowing, it’s already too late”:

On a quiet night along the Tijuana border, you can almost hear them coming: the faint scraping of metal on dirt, falling clumps of earth, muted voices in the depths. At any given moment, there are men underground here, chipping their way toward the United States with antlike determination.

Flickr - DVIDSHUB - Otay Mesa Drug Tunnel (Image 4 of 4)

Many of the drug tunnels will be discovered and shut down before they’re operational, but it doesn’t matter; more will come. The economics are unassailable. A good tunnel can take nine months or more to build and cost up to $2 million, but if it can stay open for only a few hours, the cartels can move enough marijuana through it to satisfy entire time zones—making enough money to pay for twenty more tunnels. That is why they never stop coming, and why, on November 29, 2011, Special Agent Tony Armanza 1 found himself lying in the bushes overlooking a nondescript warehouse in San Diego’s Otay Mesa, waiting for signs that one of the tunnels was about to go live.

“It’s getting dark out here, man. I’m starving,” he said into the radio. “What are we gonna do?” He and half a dozen other agents from the San Diego Tunnel Task Force had been watching the warehouse since 5 A.M.—an hour they sardonically called “the butt crack of dawn.” Armanza, face-first in the dirt all day, had been on countless stakeouts before and knew that the odds of the warehouse becoming active were diminishing with the sun; tunnel traffickers like to move their drug shipments during the day, when their trucks can blend in with the thousands of others coursing through the busy shipping district.

Half a mile away, Tim Durst, the supervisor of the task force, heard the exhaustion in Armanza’s voice. Durst was well liked by his men; he knew that Armanza wasn’t the only one tired. With a strong, goateed chin, an angular face, and closely cropped brown hair, Durst looks like a slightly weathered version of the G-man Keanu Reeves played in Point Break. He had been taking down tunnels on the mesa for five years, and today nearly one hundred agents and local cops were on call, all of them waiting for Durst’s decision. “Five more minutes,” he told his team. Experience had taught him that successful operations sometimes hinged on ridiculously small windows of time and chance. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Armanza reported that a tractor-trailer had backed up to the warehouse’s docking bay…

[continues at GQ]


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2 Comments on "Inside the Incredible Booming Subterranean Marijuana Railroad"

  1. emperorreagan | Jan 6, 2014 at 11:39 am |

    Colorado estimates $67 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales.

    On the other hand, the estimated total expenditure between federal, state, and local governments on the drug war in 2010 was $40 billion.

  2. VaudeVillain | Jan 6, 2014 at 11:43 pm |

    Just think how many human lives would have been improved if, during the last century or so, we had a sane regulatory system and legal commerce.

    Almost nobody would have gone to jail, almost nobody would have been murdered.

    Police could have focused their time and energy and resources on solving real crimes and investigating the trafficking of human cargo.

    We could have funded any number of educational programs and studies for the purpose of reducing use and minimizing whatever social ills it results in.

    We could have been better.

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