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Israel may look at some systems currently being used by the U.S. Border Patrol for fighting drug-smuggling tunnels.

Illustration image (123rf)
Illustration image (123rf)

The U.S. Border Patrol unveiled one of its weapons in the war on drugs: Three wireless camera-equipped robots that let border agents remotely navigate the tunnels and storm drainage systems that smugglers use to sneak drugs, guns and people across the border.

According to a report in Fox News the agency is using the devices to keep agents out of harm’s way as many tunnels can be poorly built and possibly collapse and lack proper ventilation. The 12-pound robots also let agents navigate an underground labyrinth in a fraction of the time it would take an agent to explore the tunnel. And the devices can be used in tunnels and pipes where agents can’t fit.

“If we find a tunnel, we like to send a robot into clear the tunnel and identify any threats, contraband, potential people with weapons, and let the agent know ahead of time if the tunnel is structurally sound,” said Border Patrol Agent Kevin Hecht, an agency tunnel expert.

The Border Patrol held a demonstration of the devices Tuesday in the southern Arizona border city of Nogales, where dozens of crude tunnels have been discovered over the years. The tunnels discovered in Nogales have generally begun in Mexico and have tied into the Arizona city’s storm drainage system.

iHLS – Israel Homeland Security

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Tunnel construction ranges from extremely rudimentary, a small burrow dug by hand, sometimes just large enough for a person to crawl through, to very sophisticated, including lights, supports to hold up the ceiling and ventilation. They can range from just a few feet stretching from one side of the border to the other, to up to a quarter mile long.

Nearly 170 tunnels have been found nationwide since 1990, most along the Arizona and California border with Mexico. The tunnel robots have been in use by Border Patrol for several years. But the agency recently paid $109,000 for the three new cameras with money from an asset forfeiture fund, which comes from the seizure of property in criminal cases, including drug cases involving cartel members, the Border Patrol said.

Miners and other laborers hired by cartels use hoes, jackhammers, shovels and picks to gouge out soil and load the dirt into buckets that are brought back out of the tunnel’s starting point in Mexico. Their tools are old-fashioned and can be bought at home improvement stores. Miners, for instance, must use compasses because GPS devices don’t work underground.

Smugglers have dug dozens of crude tunnels in Nogales, Ariz., that begin in Mexico and tie into the Arizona city’s storm drainage system. For sophisticated tunnels, such as those found near San Diego, cartels will hire engineers and miners to build the tunnels. A cartel will have a financier or a cell that reports to the cartel bosses and runs the construction. U.S. border officials estimate that the more sophisticated tunnels probably cost between $2 million to $3 million to build.