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  • It's August of 2019 and you're a DEA Agent, patrolling the Southern border after reports

  • of drug activity in the area.

  • To be a little more specific, they're reports of activity from the Sinaloa Cartelone

  • of the most powerful drug cartels in Mexico.

  • They've been moving literally tons of product here in the last several years, and you just

  • can't figure out how.

  • They're slipping right past you, almost like they're invisible.

  • That's when it hits you: They're not moving past you; they're moving under you.

  • That's because, right under your feet, there's a 4,309 foot (1,313 meters) cartel smuggling

  • tunnel, stretching from Tijuana to a warehouse district less than twenty miles South of San

  • Diego.

  • And we're not talking about a Shawshank Redemption-style tunnel with only enough space

  • to crawl throughthe tunnel, on average, is 5.5 feet tall and two feet wide.

  • It's 70 feet (21 meters) below the surface, and comes with a number of sophisticated features.

  • These features include a state-of-the-art ventilation system to keep the subterranean

  • tunnel well-aerated.

  • An impressively effective rail-cart system.

  • A drainage system to prevent any potential flooding in the tunnel.

  • An elevator to the surface, and even a series of high-voltage cables to power the operation.

  • That's because drug cartels seem to excel as three things: Drug trafficking, murder,

  • and covert civil engineering.

  • And this is far from the first time drug cartels have used DIY smuggling tunnels to ply their

  • trade.

  • According to the US Department of Homeland Security, one-hundred-and-eighty-three cross-border

  • tunnels have been built since the start of the 1990s, with many more likely remaining

  • undiscovered out there.

  • The tunnel problem is so pervasive that the Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security,

  • Border Patrol, and Customs Enforcement have created Tunnel Task Forces to deal with the

  • issue.

  • These task forces perform sting operations in tunnel hotspotssuch as warehouses

  • in the Otay Mesa commercial district in California, where a number of these drug trafficking tunnels

  • terminate.

  • They're a complex and extremely expensive problem to deal with.

  • Before we get into the history of these tunnels, first, let's get technical.

  • Most illicit cartel tunnels are colloquially known asgopher holes” – these are

  • more like the aforementioned Shawshank escape tunnels.

  • They're typically less than a hundred feet long, and a tight fit.

  • They're only really big enough for a single person to crawl through.

  • Tunnels like these have been used by everyone from drug smugglers to the Viet Cong, but

  • the Sinaloa Cartel elevated the smuggling tunnel to an art form.

  • They create what law enforcement agencies refer to asSupertunnels.”

  • These tunnels have been found as deep as seventy feet/twenty-one metres beneath the surface,

  • and are typically tall and wide enough for a person to comfortably walk through.

  • Like the tunnel found in 2019, they're often also technologically advanced.

  • You can expect to find electrical lights, elevators, ventilation systems, and sometimes

  • even built-in tracks for vehicles and carts.

  • Constructing a Supertunnel is an intense, months-long process, and can often cost upwards

  • of one million US dollars to fully complete.

  • This might seem like a costly investment, but considering the Sinaloa cartel is estimated

  • to make billions of dollars every year, it's practically chump change.

  • This, however, doesn't stop the actual tunnel-building process from being dangerous and labour-intensive.

  • The cartel typically lures in low-paid Mexican laborers eager for paying work, then forces

  • them to work night-and-day digging shifts under threat of violence and even death.

  • Dig teams work with electric shovels, working typically in teams of three.

  • They use an impromptu elevator system to lift excess dirt and sand out of the mineshaft.

  • Working at full efficiencytypically achieved by workers being sufficiently terrified for

  • their livesthey can extend the tunnel by five metres/sixteen feet a day.

  • The more workers, the quicker the process tends to go.

  • Experts are then brought in to install the more technical aspects of the Super Tunnel:

  • Like hydraulic pumps, electrical lighting and ventilation systems, and tracks for subterranean

  • smuggling vehicles.

  • After a few months of meticulous planning and back-breaking labour, voila, you have

  • yourself a Supertunnel.

  • Now, how might you use your brand new Super Tunnel?

  • Let's take a look at some examples.

  • The first recorded sophisticated cartel Supertunnelalso known, by the way, as a narcotúnel

  • was reported to the public in May of 1990.

  • It was a relatively quaint three-hundred feet/ninety-one metres, running from Agua Prieta, Sonora,

  • all the way to Douglas, Ariz.

  • The entrance to this tunnel was hidden underneath a pool table in an unassuming Mexican household.

  • In true Breaking Bad style, the exit point was a secret hatch inside a false drain in

  • an abandoned warehouse.

  • While it wasn't nearly as advanced as a modern-day Supertunnel, it still featured

  • an impressive level of craftsmanship for a first attempt: The tunnel contained an advanced

  • hydraulic pump system that opened the tunnel's secret entrance by making a portion of the

  • ground to rise up by around eight feet.

  • The plan was effective, tooit's believed that, at the lowest estimate, around 2,250

  • lbs (1,020 kgs) of cocaine was smuggled through this tunnel before it was discovered and decommissioned.

  • The mastermind behind this tunneland a name you're definitely going to hear again

  • in this videowas Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known asEl Chapo”: The legendary

  • ex-leader of the Sinaloa cartel, and the man who put smuggling tunnels on...err, under

  • the map.

  • The 1990s were a heyday for drug smuggling tunnels.

  • Here are some of the Sinaloa cartel's greatest pre-millennium hits.

  • In May of 1993, a partially-completed 1,452 foot (442 meter) tunnel was discovered in

  • Otay Mesa, California, once again coming all the way from Tijuana.

  • This tunnel was more advanced than their first offering: It included air conditioning and

  • electrical power.

  • Three more tunnels were found in Nogales, Arizona, in 1995 and 1999.

  • In an act of cartel theatricality, the 1995 tunnel lead to an exit hidden inside an abandoned

  • church.

  • In 1999, the latter two tunnels were found by law enforcement on the same day.

  • Nogales served as a popular location for the exits of cartel smuggling tunnels, with another

  • one found in a storm drain several months later, and even more scattered throughout

  • the early 2000s.

  • The smuggling tunnels being constructed by the cartel grew significantly more advanced

  • in February of 2002.

  • A 1,250 foot (381 meter) tunnel was discovered behind the fireplace of a ranch house in Tierra

  • del Sol, California.

  • This was the first tunnel to feature rails for small electrical cars, as well as lighting

  • and ventilation.

  • 296 lbs (134 kilos) of marijuana were found in the tunnel, but nobody knows exactly how

  • much was transported before the operation was discovered and shut down.

  • The Sinaloa cartel is surprisingly creative in its tunnel placement, with some entrances

  • and exits to these covert passages feeling like they were ripped straight out of a prime-time

  • drama or a bizarre dark-comedy.

  • In addition to being hidden behind fireplaces and in abandoned churches, other locations

  • include empty graves in Mexico, water wells, built directly into rocky hillsides, and even

  • below a seemingly-innocuous mattress laying in a Mexican junkyard, which lead directly

  • into San Ysidro, California, in 2004.

  • Storm drains, like the one in Nogales, are also an extremely popular exit for cartel

  • smuggling tunnelswhere drug packages are fed up into the bottoms of parked cartel

  • vehicles for easy and innocent-looking transport.

  • So remember: Next time you're near a storm drain in Arizona, Texas, or California, you

  • don't have to worry about evil clowns, but you may have to deal with an angry member

  • of the Sinaloa cartel.

  • Jury's out on which is worse.

  • The international drug trade is a multi-billion-dollar business, andas a resultthe cartels

  • are highly motivated to get their high-demand product across the border by any means necessary.

  • In the early 2000s, the use of electrical rail carts in these tunnels spiked, massively

  • increasing the quantity of product the cartel personnel were able to move.

  • Drug cartels may be vast and dangerous criminal organisations full of vicious killers, but

  • they really know how to double down on a winning formula.

  • No matter how aware US and Mexican law enforcement became these tunnels, more kept popping up.

  • Considering the expenditure of money and effort on building these tunnels was dwarfed by even

  • a fraction of the profits the cartels could make from using them (even for a short period)

  • it hardly mattered when they were found and shut down.

  • In short, cartels make more than enough profit from these tunnels that they can afford to

  • lose them.

  • Law enforcement is playing a losing game of whack-a-mole with the Sinaloa cartelthey

  • can build and abandon tunnels faster than the police can find them.

  • To give you some perspective on the sheer extent of the cartel's use of drug smuggling

  • tunnels, it would be impossibleand honestly pretty boringto give you a complete,

  • exhaustive list of all the tunnels created and used since the early 1990s.

  • The cartel has used this technique countless timesand these are just the tunnels that

  • were actually found.

  • There's no way of knowing the true extent of the cartel's tunnelling activities.

  • It's through this sheer amount of practice that the cartels have been able to refine

  • their tunnelling methods to the infrastructural heights they're achieving today.

  • In September of 2018, US authorities even found an uncompleted tunnel that utilised

  • a solar-powered lighting system.

  • So, they may have killed over 60,000 people since 1964, but at least they're environmentally

  • conscious.

  • However, the uses of these tunnels aren't limited to just smuggling drugs across the

  • US-Mexico border.

  • One of their most famous uses in recent memory didn't actually involve drugs at all.

  • This brings us back to infamous drug lord JoaquinEl ChapoGuzman, the kingpin

  • of the Sinaloa Drug cartel.

  • As this video has already shown you, El Chapo invested heavily in the advanced tunnel-building

  • techniques of his underlings, and in 2015, this investment really paid off.

  • In February of 2014, El Chapo had finally been captured by Mexican law enforcement.

  • Because of his notorious history of disappearing into thin air during raids, and escaping from

  • low-security prisons, he was held in the Altiplano prison in Almoloya de Juárez, Mexicoone

  • of the highest security prisons in the country.

  • It seemed like El Chapo's number was finally up, and the Mexican government had struck

  • a devastating blow against the Sinaloa Cartel.

  • It was grounds for celebration.

  • He was under twenty-four-hour surveillance, with cameras in his cell, and a tracking bracelet

  • around his ankle.

  • The Mexican authorities had El Chapo on lock.

  • Until, about a year into his sentence, when El Chapo decided to take a pleasant evening

  • shower.

  • Incidentally, the shower was one of the two legally-mandated camera blind spots in the

  • cell.

  • Guards at the prison noticed he was taking unusually long in there, so decided to check

  • in.

  • El Chapo was nowhere to be foundinstead, they found a two-feet-squared hole in the

  • ground.

  • This was the discovery of one of the most spectacular and absurd prison breaks in Mexico's

  • history.

  • Thirty feet/nine metres below the surface, El Chapo's goons had secretly built a 4,921-foot

  • (1,500 meter) long tunnel beneath the prison over the course of several months.

  • El Chapo had cut off his ankle bracelet and descended into his personal escape tunnel.

  • Like many of the more modern tunnels, this one was fitted with electrical lighting and

  • ventilation.

  • It also featured a motorcycle fixed to a built-in track, which El Chapo rode to freedom, breaking

  • the lightbulbs above him as he passedhours before anyone even realised he was missing.

  • The whole plan was perfectly orchestrated to buy him and his men plenty of time, as

  • he surfaced in an empty cinder block house and made his final escape.

  • The whole plan went off without a hitch.

  • Once again, a secret cartel smuggling tunnel was the answer to El Chapo's prayers.

  • El Chapo has since been recaptured, and extradited to the US to serve a life sentence at the

  • ADX Florence Supermax Prison.

  • Sadly, for him, that's a little too far for even his devoted underlings to tunnel.

  • But under the Sinaloa Cartel's new leader, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, it's unlikely

  • that the tunnelling activities will stop any time soon.

  • After all, why give up on a winning formula?

  • Thanks for watching this episode of The Infographics Show.

  • Already hungry for more Cartel action?

  • Why not check outInsane Way El Chapo Escaped PrisonandCrazy Moving Submarine Drug

  • Bust.”

  • Keep watchingwe're sure to tunnel into your heart.

It's August of 2019 and you're a DEA Agent, patrolling the Southern border after reports

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Secret Hatch Leads to El Chapo's Underground Cartel Drug Tunnels

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    Summer posted on 2020/07/30
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