Border Patrol’s ‘tunnel rats’ stalk drug smugglers in an underground game of hide-and-seek


It’s a name only a bureaucrat could love: Confined Spaces Entry Team.

Squad members call themselves something else: tunnel rats.

For the last seven years, they’ve been going underground to locate, map and seal off the tunnels used by cartels to smuggle drugs from Mexico to San Diego and beyond.

Theirs is a little-known part of the high-stakes hide-and-seek game that plays out daily along the border. While much of the attention, especially lately, has been focused on walls and what happens aboveground, more than 80 tunnels have been found in California and Arizona since 2011.

Some have been almost 3,000 feet long and contain tracks for motorized carts, as well as lights, elevators and ventilation. One ended underneath a house in Calexico built just to provide cover for the tunnelers.

Warehouses constructed close to the border in Otay Mesa and Tijuana provide camouflage: an out-of-view place for a tunnel to start and another for it to end.

The area’s clay soil is particularly good for tunneling — not too soft or too hard.

“This,” said Lance LeNoir, gesturing at the warehouses and the ground between them, “is what makes San Diego grand central for the long, sophisticated tunnels.”

LeNoir is an operations officer for the Border Patrol. He heads the five-member tunnel rats, and he was standing one recent weekday morning near what’s known in law enforcement circles as the Galvez tunnel.

Read more at the LA Times