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IDF Spokesman
IDF Spokesman

Israel has been facing a problem of tunnels in Gaza. The solution is very complicated and the U.S is facing one on its border with Mexico. But this so far has not resulted with good solutions and the search continues.

Rocks, power cords, and support structures are among the hazards in illegal cross-border tunnels that can trip up the robots used to explore them, a technology that has struggled to meet the tunnel challenge, Kevin Hecht of the Border Patrol said March 13.

During a panel discussion at the Border Security Expo in Phoenix, Hecht, deputy patrol agent in charge at the Nogales, Ariz., patrol station, said that if obstacles thwart the robots, Border Patrol agents have to go rescue them, which may defeat the purpose of using them to begin with.

Technology to enter and explore tunnels is more advanced than detection technology, though. Hecht said the government is reluctant to invest in that technology: “It needs to be proven that it’s guaranteed to find tunnels before we use all that taxpayer dollars to go digging up holes all along the border.” At this point, he said, no technology on the market has shown itself to be effective.

Though tunnel technologies are still relatively primitive, Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner for the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition at Customs and Border Protection, said they are an area where the agency is hoping for a major breakthrough.

He said that even though his office’s name includes the word “innovation,” for CBP that means incremental change, not revolutionary advances–except in a few cases including tunnel detection.

Usually, for border technology between ports of entry, CBP wants solutions that are “commercial, off-the-shelf, nothing fancy, as cheap as possible,” he said. But the agency has a small pool of resources for emerging issues: tunnels, low-flying aircraft, and upgrading from the land mobile radio network to 4G LTE communication.

“We want to have the opportunity occasionally to do something that’s transformational,” Borkowski said.

Since 1990, 162 illegal cross-border tunnels have been discovered, 95 of them in Nogales alone. They range from rudimentary tunnels to more sophisticated versions with communication lines, ventilation and Shoring. Some connect to storm drainage or sewer systems in the United States.

Hecht said that because the United States and Mexico have stepped up joint investigations in recent years, tunnel builders have had to increase their efforts to conceal tunnels entrances in Mexico.