Monday, March 23, 2009

Tunnelizing Migration 3: From Headwalls to Super Walls

[Image: An unrelated photo, via DJ_Scamper.]

It looks like the U.S. government is running a little back-to-basics sort of test in the nation’s backyard along the Arizona-Mexico border. They’ve selected a key 100-yard stretch of space right alongside the fence in Nogales to pack a concrete “headwall” 10-12 feet deep, 1-2 feet wide into the ground that will form essentially an invisible extension of the border fence below the surface.

According to the article, the headwall was poured “where smugglers have made several attempts over the years to dig through to the United States.” The Border Patrol accompanied Mexican officials along the wash that runs parallel to International Street in Mexico where they get through “along a stretch that is covered by concrete.”

[Image: A photo of the headwall in Nogales, Az. as it is being poured.]

So, they have turned to yet another wall in attempt to cut off the shallow subterrain of this popular stretch, but – will it succeed? In my measly opinion more than likely it will for a short term anyway, but not because of the new "headwall" but rather all the extra attention the area is receiving in general right now so that more likely the cartel will shift their operation elsewhere, at least until the Border Patrol looks away again. Yet, no doubt the BP will attribute credit to the headwall for suppressing the number of tunnels found there in the future, and use it as ammunition to clone the strategy elsewhere, who knows perhaps even as far away as Gaza (more on that later). In fact, merely weeks after the concrete has dried, the Border Patrol is already claiming it a success, saying so far they haven’t found any new tunnels. Ha! Hilarious – it’s only been a few weeks!

I would be even less surprised if in a few more weeks from now they found a new tunnel stretching below, or even right through it.

[Image: A photo of the headwall in Nogales, Az. as it is being poured.]

From what I’ve read in the past tunnelers have been known to reuse the concrete from the Customs and Border Protection’s plugs in order to support new passages. Often just offshoots of old existing tunnels, the BP will tell you, some of which are kept semi in tact like pregnant voids cut off inside the border at both ends; concretized air bubbles trapped below the earth’s surface. I also read a while back that to counter this move they were developing a special concrete that would crumble if tampered with, and using slurry so the plugs might cave in on tunnelers as well.

Yet, in trying to look at this from the DHS's perspective, my first reaction to an underground wall is: won’t this also just help the tunnelers by feeding them added raw material to work with? And wouldn’t it provide additional cover from other detection methods – especially if they’ve already been successful puncturing concrete?

Of course, the obvious lesson to me here is, you don’t solve the inherent fallacy of a wall by adding more walls. But, if there is one thing we can say about American policy in this regard, it is the kind of hardheadedness that perhaps only a headwall can do justice.

All I can say is, mustn’t underestimate the ingenuity of the cartel, or even the noble migrant seeking access to a better livelihood, for that matter. Now that it’s getting down to pitching shovels the size of football fields into the crawl spaces of the earth’s crust, what next? How deep do they plan for their underground wall to go?

• • •

In an unapologetically farcical portrayal of a future here, this roughly 3500 sq. ft. concrete headwall would only mark the tip of an iceberg – in reality, the tip of an impossibly extended manmade iceberg, since this headwall would be the first of many concrete sheets just like it to follow in its footsteps and be fed into the earth, numbered and mapped like an impenetrable storage system made for filing walls into the border. All part of an international project the leaders of global defense one day sought to supplant, in key locations at first – “an intelligent super wall” (as it had once been called) that would be built entirely underground (yes, underground), as a kind of sepulcherous megastructure; an anti cross-border tunnel fence, in more mundane terms, delineating national boundaries somewhat in secret along a deceptively hardened equator that would be (and get this) capable in its final stages of production of “shuffling giant reinforced concrete panels around inside the earth on hydraulics, magnets, and flexible tracks that would build itself like a web.” Apparently, at the behest of some nifty software it would also “constantly dig and recede deeper into the earth” below Hades’ own horizons where even “the roguest of rogue engineers working for the cartel would never be able to dig.”

[Image: A photo from Dubai.]

At the annual meeting of the 46th World Futurological Congress that took place inside an old half-built luxury condo tower that had been surgically dismantled on an abandoned site in Dubai, trucked and shipped in elephantine parts overseas to a small town outside of Nogales that was recently renamed Moho Vista, where the old condo’s side walls fifteen stories long and decapitated roof had been lifted by a new German breed of walking cranes and submerged vertically underground into these massive gills the Army Corps of Engineers spent months excavating right beside the border fence, the leading thinkers on global security had come together to observe what was formally ordained the first observational bunker for the work and testing being done on this new Great Wall project, that had not received much of anyone’s attention up to this point.

[Image: A photo from Dubai.]

It was here inside the architectural refuse of Dubai’s cosmopolitan ruins sunken in the ground where some of the dirtiest martinis were still served with napkins that had a cryptic drill-bit for a logo you could have easily mistaken for a mutant stingray or a flat-nosed hard-on of some kind militarized with earth crushing teeth, the chief heads of defense staff and their robotic secretaries had been sent to see firsthand how such a subterranean super wall might actually work towards helping to alleviate the persistent political aches of unsecured borders routinely taken over by highly sophisticated criminal elements.

As they wandered around inside the desiccated wet dreams of a far-off real estate mogul from a short past whose project had finally been relieved of its costly futility by way of burial now, the eyes and ears of the Congress were completely stunned to see the meticulous inner workings of this embedded laboratory which surprisingly only required a staff of 22 people to operate with optimal efficiency, where the hulks of busted buildings lay in wait on the surface in a storage yard for the next phase of assembly line to take hold and deliver them into an incredible handling system through landscape cuts and sculpted fissures held together by what looked like the brilliant network of diseased steel tracks and magnetic clasps moving on hydraulic spokes that might have even made Lebbeus Woods cringe with amazement.

[Image: The wall of the Bosnia Free State, by Lebbeus Woods.]

It was the greatest disappearing act you’d ever see – entire building broken down and swallowed by the earth. It had the simplicity of an IKEA living room lighting system that could be situated in various locations by gliding easily in any directions on a set of crisscrossed wires similar to the NFL’s silky smooth SkyCam, and the incomprehensible wonder and logic of a vortexual system that couldn’t be fully grasped visually because all of its parts at once seemed simply overwhelming. It looked like it had been designed to install panels the size of football fields or sidewalk squares depending on the need.

[Image: An unrelated construction photo.]

What they saw were the first rooted machinations of “a self-mining self-organizing wall-works system” that would allow just a handful of engineers to “feed in recycled slab and scavenged structural parts at ground level like cd’s into a multidisc player” before being conjoined again “in Tetris-like fashion” to create a new kind of barrier no one has ever seen before. The system was already performing some basic shuffling patterns pulling from a daisy chain of dislocated walls of various sizes and shapes accessed from a meticulously well-wired and imperceptibly long cavernous vault underground. It was kind of like mining a giant jukebox into the earth that swapped massive records of concrete underground instead of old vinyl by your table. The system kept exact measurements of all the sectional dimensions and weights before they were inserted so that each one (as it were) could be selected and appropriately fitted into specific excavated niches based on the spatial allowances the drilling machines were able to negotiate at the time.

In the project’s brochure the ‘observational bunker’ was pictured as being mobile and able to traverse along the wall in all directions on its own set of cables like an architectural labyrinthine spider. In some smaller renderings it was shown perched at a generic set of coordinates to inspect “unintended” gaps and maintain infrastructure, while in another image the engineers were using the sampled condo bunker to reach a clandestine tunnel they were plugging with some sort of indestructible mesh and concrete.

It was an incredible vision and the Congress was speechless watching gargantuan walls shifting in and out of place on an ingeniously compact frame that was fitted and secured with exceptional robotic engineering, while great booring snake heads chewed deeper into the earth below preparing for the next tectonic shifts in the wall’s invisible expansion. The underground wall would be able to maneuver itself down to depths of several hundred feet the first year, the Congress was told, they were going slowly to be safe, led by a set of smaller more durable panels that would slide down first behind the drills with every new depth change, “so the larger panels could slowly move down in their place.” It was a domino effect of walls falling into the earth, fastening and securing themselves into a kind of subtopic belt.

[Image: A photo from Dubai.]

In fact, after a brilliant briefing by a squirrelly planner named Chip who worked for a private agency chosen to lead the new Tectonic Warfare Task Force, who showed off what at first appeared completely laughable proposals for ways his demolition crews could not only scavenge but largely repurpose several different types of structural remains littering the world from shopping malls, substations and power plants to warehouses, abandoned railway tunnels and decrepit prisons, the Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of funding the next phase of the project and leapt at the idea of using the Underground Wall to spur a new industrial boom that would capitalize not on building per se, so much as on hyping a responsible deconstruction of society’s decommissioned ruins, by breaking them down into valuable fortification materials, and relocating them deep inside the contentious seams of regional border zones where a “chain of superficial perforations” would be dug and the underground panels could be distributed to their new positions safeguarding the wealthy nations from below.

It was a mouthful. And, “it was like treating the earth for cavities,” Chip said, “we see ourselves as large scale dentists in this great endeavor, attacking the criminal tunnel networks where they’re known to exist or are still considered likely before they spread.” And he was creating a kind of cemetery to late capitalism in the process, helping to dispose of the urban shells left in the economy’s deflated wake. And right towards the end of his briefing, just to give the Congress that extra thump over the head he said, “Oh, and a combination of the wall’s flexibility afforded by our innovative mesh and the ability to fasten the whole thing on revolutionary new vibration dampeners will allow each separate structure to independently absorb and adjust to the earth’s routine shifts and movements. So, in case you were wondering,” the planner assured them, “earthquakes are our friends. They actually help tighten the wall’s pieces together.”

[Image: An unrelated photo.]

For the time being he had dodged any questions about whether slicing the earth’s crust in half might actually cause any earthquakes, and quickly handed out business cards on a translucent paper to everyone while shaking hands and generally feeling like an underground rockstar.

On paper, it was a marvelous feat of military engineering that imagined an infinite concrete wall stretching and sinking as if it were its own tectonic plate sliding along a seismically reinforced axis that would shut the curtain on the underground forever to come, which had brought everyone on board from national security experts to mining gurus, real estate speculators and engineers, global steel companies, private prison operators, geography professors and their gangly grad students, hordes of environmental activists with telescopes and loudspeakers, Native American spiritual leaders, corporate lobbyists, hard headed politicians, conspiracy tweaks, conmen and madmen, all the way down to the average Joe construction worker – they all wanted a piece of this new subterranean boom and in some strange way it had a place for each and every one of them. There was no one who wasn’t curious enough to go see this thing for himself from as close as he could get once word broke out the U.S. was stashing old buildings below the border for some sort of national security project. It wouldn’t be long before small armies of RV’s would turn up dotting ridges and pooling in valleys to launch their cell phone based tourist maps of the restricted areas.

Securing the Homeland to the Core became a kind of generic mantra over time that ended up printed on thousands of coffee mugs in cubicles worldwide, on T-shirts and for for sale on Ebay, on new and strange product packaging which soon emerged from all of this: weird energy drinks that supposedly increased the health of your pupils, flavored oxygen inhalers, glow in the dark bubble gums. Tunnel rat junk foods.

The idea, though, that globalization’s extinct structures could be recompiled into a new Great Anti-Tunnel Wall underground “to put organized crime back in its place,” was simply too mouth-watering for the participants of the Futurological Congress to disapprove.

[Image: A photo of the headwall in Nogales, Az. as it is being poured.]

Hailed as “the answer” to groups of “international outlaws” and “cowardly terrorists” who have “taken refuge under our borders for far too long,” in the end the planner had sold the leaders of the world on the simple concept of a titanic barrier sinking towards the bottom of the earth, defying geological convention, spreading horizontally like thieving waves that would remain permanently just under the surface to stem the tunnely platitudes and seamy sanctuaries of the violent and rapacious cartel.

And just as security bureaucrats had given into the incontrovertible reality of the border fence having miserably failed as a consequence to “illegal immigration,” this new plan was set to revive their hopes all over again and redeem what had seemed irredeemable to the public who spent billions already on the legacy of a juvenile and ill-fated strategy for years. This time the border fence would do what it was meant to do, they said, this was the most formidable security structure ever conceived or ever built, and it was going to be a complete and total future archaeological wonder of the world one day that had already brought the Pentagon to its knees upon seeing walls fed into the earth as easy as a giant toaster, who signed off on it even before the precautious little planner had to ask if there were any questions. The postcards had already been sent to the printer. There was no way this thing could lose, was the caption that hung over everyone’s head that afternoon walking out of there.

Of course, how it all turned out, was, well, a different story, as you might imagine.

Part 4 coming soon. Oh, so is part 2.

Read: Tunnelizing Migration 1: The Border Tunnel Capital of North America
Video: Walls beget tunnels and tunnels beget walls

Friday, March 20, 2009

Floating Fences 1 (Imperial County)

[Image: US-Mexico border fence in the Imperial County sands between Yuma, Arizona and Calexico, California. Photo via Gulf Times.]

If one defining characteristic of the nomadic fortress is that future border barricades will become less stationary and continue to evolve towards movement and self-adjustment on their own, then the U.S. Border Patrol has implemented one example along the nation's largest stretch of sand dunes in California's Imperial County.
Perched between Yuma, Arizona and Calexico, California, the dunes also smooth into Mexico where smugglers have been known to use buggies to blend in with other recreational dune vehicles in order to reach Interstate 8 which is less than a half-mile from the border.
15 feet high, seven miles long and $40m dollars later the “floating fence” basically rests on top of the sand like a sort of tectonic sidewinder, unfastened to anything below the slippery surface. When the sands build up against the fence from winds the Border Patrol simply uses a machine to raise the fence and place it back on top of the sand’s surface again.
From what I gather, it sounds like it also slightly moves and alters itself accordingly with the natural sand shifts since the dunes are not entirely stable, similar to bobbing on water. It's like a post-industrial kiddy pool guard, or something.
I believe there may be a similar fence in parts of the Western Sahara between Morocco and Algeria, or in the Middle East, if I remember correctly reading some time ago, but will have to verify that later. I don’t think this is the first of its kind in the world, maybe in the U.S., though, this article also says there is a similar fence in the El Centro sector in California.

[Image: Photo Via AP.]

Of course the Border Patrol thinks it’s absolutely brilliant, a fence that never loses height and can be easily resettled on a landscape that is constantly shifting its contours. It fits their vision in every way of a dynamic border that can react to and meet the needs of a changing environment, and symbolically the challenges of a constantly shifting political landscape.
They don't seem concerned with tunneling underneath it either because, if I am safe to assume, the sand poses extremely difficult challenges in that regard (though I'm not convinced it is impervious to tunneling, certainly not yet). But my initial reaction was: what about observing the legal coordinates of the boundary itself?
I can just picture some geological surveyors coming out on their ATVs with coolers full of cokes and tuna sandwhiches one afternoon to do some analysis of the fence’s movements only to find that in just a few short months the entire structure has veered much further off course from the border than they had anticipated. It has in fact completely redrawn the border ever so slightly in favor of expanding American territory in the dunes. They leave it, for the time being, unil this "oversight" is detected and accusatory politics erupts, and new meaning is given to the adage, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”
Actually, another very interesting scenario would be to let the fence do its floating thing in the sand there for decades just to see where it would end up over time. On how many occasions might it be buried only to resurface again over and over on its own? -- the fence, in this bitter relationship with the landscape, which cannot be fully digested by the earth that must keep regurgitating it.
I have no knowledge of the topographic patterns of the dunes and sand movements, something I'd love to learn more about, but where would that fence end up in, say, 50 years? Who would need to cross it then? Or would the earth just find a way to completely swallow it, like a post-border snake taking eternal refuge in the cooler sands below? Or would the dunes eventually spit it out somehwere on the outskirts where the sands wash up on harsher shores, like a tangled heap of metal thoroughly and terrestrially rejected from its place of deployment?
Yet, in our grimmest of imaginations we fear one let loose by the Euro border security agency Frontex, in fact several strewn across the Saharan desert from Morocco and Egypt, Libya, Ageria, down into Sudan like a squad of steel walled serpents that slowly tumble over the course of time, following drifts with sandstorms at their backs that blow them across the pebbled glaciers like wandering prison yards, slinking and falling over endless slopes in a slow-motion round-up of sun-blistered migrants and refugees wandering starved in dainty festoons northwards from Sub-Sahara Africa.
People of the Earth, Beware. Future fences mobilized by natural ground movements of the desert (dunes power), slithering through peaks and valleys to cut off remote migration zones where ancient sands have swallowed humans for centuries; now haunted by massive militarized sidewinders of border wall toppling mounds of sand, conquering great bodies of dust, with hazy blueprints of detention dragged in their paths.
Border serpents of the Earth, Be Gone with You!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Postopolis! LA Fast Approaching

[Image: POSTOPOLIS! LA. Logo, thanks to Joe Alterio, 2009.]

It’s hard to believe we are only less than two weeks away from Postopolis! LA, and it is really coming together nicely. So here’s a little update.
First, we’ve locked down our location. Looks like we will be hosting the entire event – beginning Thursday, March 31st through Saturday, April 4th from 5-11pm every night – on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel in Downtown LA, which I’m told is quite a spot. I’ve never been but with a pool and bar on top, free wi-fi, projectors, and all of you, only thing I can say is -- sick! I’m not sure we could have done much better -- really psyched about that. So hopefully that alone will entice you to come down and chill with us over some martinis and crazy space conversations on one if not all evenings that week.
Just so you know, Postopolis! is completely free and open to the public. This isn’t a conference, it’s not a lecture series, it’s a more casual weeklong evening of run-on back-to-back short presentations followed by short discussions on a wide array of topics and interests around space design and space production. It’s meant to be a super accessible counter to the conference thing, and on top of the hotel from Happy Hour on every night is gonna be amazing!
Man, I can’t wait. A more formal schedule of speakers will come together soon, but for now here’s a list of who to expect so far.

—Ari Kletzky (Founder, Islands of LA)
—Austin Kelly (Principal, XTEN Architecture)
Ava Bromberg (Spacemaker, In the Field)
—Ben Cerveny (Strategic and Conceptual Advisor, Stamen Design)
—Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues (Architects and Founding Partners, Ball-Nogues Studio)
Benjamin Bratton (Architect and Theorist)
—Bryan Boyer (Organizer, Helsinki Design Lab 2010)
—Christina Ulke (Artist, Co-Founder, C-Level, and Editor, Journal of Aesthetics and Protest)
—Christopher Hawthorne (Architecture Critic, Los Angeles Times)
—David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young (Founders, fallen fruit)
David Gissen (Theorist and Historian, CCA)
—Dwayne Oyler (Architect and Principal, Oyler Wu Collaborative)
—Eric Rodenbeck (Founder, Stamen Design)
—Freya Bardell and Brian Howe (Principals, Greenmeme)
Fritz Haeg (Artist and Writer)
Gary Dauphin (Writer and Critic)
—Jeffrey Inaba (Architect and Principal, Inaba Projects)
Ken Ehrlich (Artist and Writer)
—Mary-Ann Ray (Architect, Writer, and Principal, Studio Works Architects)
—Matthew Coolidge (Director, Center for Land Use Interpretation)
—Michael Dear (Professor of Geography, USC)
—Michael Downing (Deputy Chief of Counter Terrorism, Los Angeles Police Department)
Mike the Poet (Poet and Writer)
—Orhan Ayyüce (Architect, Blogger, and Senior Editor, Archinect)
—Patrick Keller (Architect and Principal, Fabric)
—Paul Petrunia (Founder, Archinect)
—Robert Miles Kemp (Designer and Principal, Variate Labs)
—Sam Grawe (Editor-in-Chief, Dwell)
—Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee (Architects and Principals, Johnston MarkLee)
—Stephanie Smith (Founder, Ecoshack)
Steve Roden (Musician and Artist)
—Ted Kane (Architect and Author, Polar Inertia)
—Whitney Sander (Architect and Principal, Sander Architects)
—Yo-Ichiro Hakomori (Architect and Principal, wHY Architecture)

In addition, Saturday, April 4 will be a little different since it will involve a few media panels, including Matt Chaban from the Architect's Newspaper, Dakota Smith from Curbed LA, Greg J. Smith of Serial Consign & Vague Terrain, journalist Alissa Walker, some local Archinect school bloggers, among others you will learn of shortly.
There will be certainly more to announce in the coming days, so just cool your jets. Just in case you forgot – the whole thing is being co-hosted with these badasses: BLDGBLOG, City of Sound, mudd up!, Plataforma Arquitectura/Arch Daily, and we make money not art, all under the organization of the Storefront for Art and Architecture and the sponsorship of ForYourArt.
We are grateful. More in a bit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


[Image: Photo: Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images/Via LA Times.]

Over the next few days I will be participating in a virtual symposium over at CTLab dedicated to the topic of Urbicide (the killing of cities), the logic of which underpins much of what has ever driven a “military urbanism.” Think Shock n’ Awe, Israel’s decimation of Lebanon, of Gaza, the massive destruction wrought in Sarajevo and Bosnia during the war – widespread ruining of the urban environment; the genocide of cultural heritage through architectural obliteration.
The first of several symposiums lined up over the next few months themed around ‘urban conflict’ features Martin Coward, author of Urbicide: The Politics of Destruction, where he lays out the urbicidal dynamics of cities that are targets of war and asks, aside from their physicality what is truly at stake in their annihilation? Well, the answer may very well be the essence of existential fulfillment as human beings are fundamentally the products of space, and as physical space is inherently public and constitutive of our relations to others. There is essentially everything at stake, from our politics to our collective identity. Martin’s opening remarks were just published, so check them out.
There are some other great participants invovled: Stephen Graham (University of Durham – whom you should already know by now), Tony Waters (Chico State), Marc Tyrrell (Carleton University), John Matthew Barlow (Concordia University), and Antoine Bousquet (Birkbeck College, London), not to mention Mike Innes who runs CTLab. I will be tossing a few questions into the mix here and there to feed my own edification and specific interests around this topic while trying to come up with something interesting to add to the larger discussion. This is very cool to be a part of and so a thanks goes out to Mike for inviting me!

Keep your eyes on the symposium index link here at CTLab over the next few days, I am sure this will be super provocative. More to come later.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Black Houses, Black Jails

[Image: Police officers outside Majialou, a detention center for people who come to Beijing petitioning seeking redress of grievances. Photo by Du Bin for The New York Times.]

Forgive the bulk reposting here of this article in today's New York Times, but I could not find the resolve to omit any part of it in my own relay. Here is how the Chinese appear to practice their own domestic brand of extraordinary rendition, ironically not by whisking people who are suspected of any wrong doing away to jails that technically do not exist, but common citizens who are merely trying to file a grievance with the Chinese government itself.
Micro-prisons, mobile execution chambers, a common place torture is alive and well right there in the streets of Beijing!
From this article -- Seeking Justice, Chinese Land in Secret Jails -- written by Andrew Jacobs:

BEIJING — They are often tucked away in the rough-and-tumble sections of the city’s south side, hidden beneath dingy hotels and guarded by men in dark coats. Known as “black houses,” they are unofficial jails for the pesky hordes of petitioners who flock to the capital seeking justice. [...]

According to the state media, 10 million petitions have been filed in the last five years on complaints as diverse as illegal land seizures and unpaid wages. The numbers would be far higher but for the black houses, also called black jails, the newest weapon local officials use to prevent these aggrieved citizens from embarrassing them in front of central government superiors. Officially, these jails do not exist.

In China’s authoritarian state, senior officials tally petitions to get a rough sense of social order around the country. A successfully filed petition — however illusory the prospect of justice — is considered a black mark on the bureaucratic record of the local officials accused of wrongdoing.

So the game, sometimes deadly, is to prevent a filing. The cat-and-mouse contest has created a sizable underground economy that enriches the interceptors, the police and those who run the city’s ad hoc detention centers. [...]

Rights advocates say that black houses have sprouted in recent years partly because top leaders have put more pressure on local leaders to reduce the number of petitioners reaching Beijing. Two of the largest holding pens, Majialou and Jiujingzhuang, can handle thousands of detainees who are funneled to the smaller detention centers, where cellphones and identification cards are confiscated.

Investigating China's illegal detention centres - the notorious 'black jails' of Beijing (Video)
Rights Groups Claim Torture Pervasive in China
Growing opposition to China's 'black jails'
A visit to one of Beijing’s ‘black jails’(?)
“Black Jails”: China’s Police-operated Growing Network of Illegal Detention Facilities
The Olympic Black Jails

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Tunnelizing Migration 1: The Border Tunnel Capital of North America

[Image: Nogales, Arizona. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde January 30, 2007.]

As you may or may not know Nogales, Arizona has quickly become the border tunnel capital of North America, as in illegal cross-border tunnel, at least as far as the U.S. government can tell. The latest numbers according to a NORTHCOM Task Force briefing that was apparently secretly leaked over the web just weeks ago, indicate between 1990 and November 2008, 93 cross-border tunnels were discovered, 35 of which were in California, 57 in Arizona, and 1 in Washington State.
I’ve been watching this incessantly, tunnels breaching the US-Mexico border have been percolating in the news for the last couple years sometimes at nearly a new story every week – or, a new discovery, rather. At fascinating pace.
In addition to a brand new smuggling tunnel found just a few days ago a quarter-mile east of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California – a “3-foot-wide by 3-foot-tall, wood-reinforced channel without lighting or ventilation equipment” believed to connect to a deactivated natural-gas pipe running underneath the boundary – the Border Patrol out of Tucson announced the finding of three more tunnels in Nogales from Dec.-Jan. '08-'09 all tapping into existing storage drains and shared sewage canals, or dipping under the fence.
Two weeks ago in San Ysidro, a coyote was busted trying to lead a small group of people “down a dangerous 30-foot storm drain” south of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant “to avoid detection while furthering their entry into the country through a near flooded drainage tube.” People were injured, caught – not pretty.
As of October last year, I think the number of tunnels found in Arizona (Nogales, mostly) is at least twelve, maybe fifteen now. That’s somewhere between two and three tunnels discovered every month there in the last five.
While cities in California shake with regular earthquakes, Nogales at its own rate gets plowed by border tunnels.

[Image: From US NORTHCOM Task Force Briefing, 2008/09.]

Looks like the multi-billion dollar border fence aint working so well after all – what a surprise. In fact it seems to be causing as much disaster as it claims to be trying to prevent, evidenced in nearly every environmental impact review you will read of the fence (not to mention the DHS waived of over thirty environmental protection laws to build it). FAS recently pointed out that the proliferation of tunnels dug underneath the border had been casually categorized as an unintended consequence in a Congressional Research Service report (pdf) drafted last year.
You think? Come on, unintended? That’s such a bureaucratically passive way of putting it. Tunneling was hardly an unanticipated response to the fence – unintended (well, no shit) – the language sounds so desperately oblivious to me…sorry, but in an almost purposeful state of denial. Or, perhaps the Congress is just that plainly clueless about the situation. The researchers in the report go on to suggest:

A possible issue for Congress to consider as it debates expanding the existing border fencing is what the unintended consequences of this expansion could be. Given the re-routing of migration flows that have already occurred, are DHS and the relevant border communities prepared to handle the increased flow of illegal migration to non-reinforced areas? Is DHS prepared to deal with an increase in the phenomenon of cross-border tunnels and other attempts to defeat the purpose of the fencing? What will the impact on crime rates be along the unreinforced areas of the border? Will USBP agents be required to spend some of their patrolling time guarding the fence? - (Border Security: Barriers Along the U.S. International Border, CRS Report for Congress, Order Code RL33659, Updated May 13, 2008)

Sounds like questions that should have been answered long before the fence was even started. Since its construction kicked into real gear a few years ago tunnels have sprung up everywhere along the southern border like leaks bursting in the stern of the USS Fortress America – which is only predictable. The DHS has in the past tried to use the detection of tunnels as proof the fence and other measures are working by driving the traffickers into more desperate zones of operation, which would corroborate the Congress’ research had they instead said the tunnels were a precisely intended outcome of the fence.
It’s the ‘show me a ten foot fence and I’ll show you an eleven foot ladder’ neologism making an even bigger nuisance of the fence’s impotence here via the tunnel. At this point, if the only thing you can say about close to 100 secret tunnels manifesting along your border in the last two decades is that they are an unintended consequence, then it just goes to show how out of touch the Congress is with the reality of a border fence altogether, since the fence is what primarily put them there. Not as if that point needs to be belabored any further – the fence is a complete waste in every aspect.
All you silly future security fence engineers out there take note – prepare for tunnels!

[Image: "The town of Nogales is split down the middle by the US/Mexico border. In these pictures Mexico is on the left, and the US is on the right. In 1898 you could cross anywhere. Now there is a 15 foot high wall and border patrol agents every 50 yards." - via think or thwim.]

If tunnels are being dug, or spatially hacked into and out of existing drainways (at least fifteen in the last few months), then the only thing proving successful to me is the illicit tunnel industry itself. The reality is that some of the tunnels were already there prior to the fence (some that latched onto preexisting infrastructure underground) while others were built as border security revved to full speed. There is no way of knowing how many tunnels have or still exist today, or for how long.
The Ambos Nogales wash is an old project that has been crawling with people probably ever since it was built, notably with the tunnel communities in the nineties, but more so today with coyotes and smugglers – explored in an earlier subtopes’ post Orwellian Wormholes. The BP wasn’t even really looking for this sort of thing until after 9/11.

[Image: "April 5, 2007, near the exit of the Grant Tunnel in downtown Nogales, Ariz., which connects to drainage systems in Mexico. The tunnel was one of two storm drain tunnels constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to alleviate flooding in the area." - AP Photo by James Gregg.]

The watershed infrastructure and all its subset tunnels that wander under Nogales on both sides of the border are so vast perhaps the only way to truly gage the number of secret unaccounted-for passages that poke, spoke, and meander through it would be to airlift the entire structure (at the core two parallel concrete tunnels roughly fifteen feet wide and several miles long), scooping and dislodging it and plenty of surrounding earth (houses, city sewage tunnels and all) from its site fixed under the border, and dunking into some sort of nearby tank the size of at least twenty square city blocks filled with liquid foam core, then to delicately remove the infill tendrils later and see what extracted void sculpture you might be able to use to extrapolate a visualization of the smaller informal tunnels that violate the whole thing.
If anything it might make for one hell of a sculpture. When we’re finished we could just lay it out somewhere in the desert heaped over another part of the border like the fleeting corpse of some post-urban horror show that almost escaped the border’s relentless persecution of its soul -- border tunnels leaping from their own skin as installation art.
Or, you dunk the sewage skeleton into a manmade lake filled with fearless fish you’ve attached with GPS units, and using water hoses in strategic directions encourage them to swim through it like good little geographers to map a new home out of the kidnapped hydrology, tracking their movements while illuminating the kelpy tangles of the structure’s smuggler lungs.

[Image: "Construction crews work on the Arroyo Boulevard covered channel over the Nogales Wash. The tunnel houses the wash as it runs from downtown Nogales, Sonora, into Nogales, Arizona. The wash water has been found to contain raw sewage and industrial chemicals." Photos by Jeffry D. Scott. / Bridging Troubled Waters in Ambos Nogales by Miriam Davidson.]

Actually, it makes more sense to probably just evacuate thousands of good neighboring border folk from their homes in Nogales today and flood it where it is now to achieve the same effect, which might just happen on its own one day if it hasn’t already, no thanks to the border fence, ironically enough.

Impossible as any of that may be right now, even though there wasn’t anything close to 650 miles of southern border barricade back in 1990 when construction on the fence really just began in San Diego, it certainly doesn’t mean cross-border tunnels didn’t exist for smuggling or migration (most probably in urban areas of sister cities), or were they any less a reality. Fence, or no fence, US-Mexico border tunnels allegedly date back to at least the days of Prohibition. But, throw in a high-tech surveillance fence, and the tunnels truly get to do their thing, much like they did in Berlin and Sarajevo, for example – the tunnels get to fulfill their own ideal destinies skirting the constraints of uber power.

[Image: Drug Smugglers Tunnel Discovered At Border Tunnel Otay Mesa.]

[Image: Border Patrol discovers underground tunnel in Otay Mesa.]

[Image: Two tunnels found under border at Nogales, January 20th, 2009.]

The DHS, like it or not, has instigated an era along the US-Mexico border where the tunnel works of cartels and traffickers are and will more than likely continue to thrive, at least for awhile, probably a good long while. Just look what the closed borders sealing Gaza have done for the tunneling industry there, with virtually no resources to work with at all, butted up against one of the most high-tech militaries on the planet. The IDF continues bombing them today, yet the underground conduits of Gaza’s dark survival continue.
Well, the cartels have full-on engineering companies at their disposal armed to the teeth with the latest equipment and weapons, not to mention their own militaries vying for control of Mexico’s sovereignty right now.
The fence is all the invitation a good old-fashioned tunnel needs. While the fence is the superpower precondition for the tunnel supremacy of asymmetric warfare, the tunnel is the prototypical space of imperial bypass – a primal blueprint that has succeeded since the dawn of war, most prominently where barriers have tried to endure. They are locked in a sort of immortal embrace there on the fringes of the border.
This is intimately curious to me, the relationship the fence and tunnel share, where the spatial dynamics of territorial authority are built up and broken down again, are constantly uprooted and re-challenged, where the limits of power are undone by the primordial urge to human ingenuity persistent in its crudest form, in its naked right to move freely beyond all constraints and survive, snoop, escape, evade, profit. As a fracture in the integrity of the nation-state landscape the border is such an intriguing and precarious vista to look at the (geo)politics of space where it is just sort of cast there in the soil, in a line and a fence’s shadow – in the hollows of what refuses to be noticed. Spatial fallout.

[Image: Tunnel found next to border fence in Nogales.]

[Image: Border Patrol Foils Underground Smuggling Ploy.]

It make me wonder about what the DHS strategy really has been: obviously, features like the fence are intended to slow down and displace the flows of migration to areas that are more difficult to traverse (like the desert and the underground, or into coastal waters), but if you’re going to drive it in to these places then you shouldn’t act too surprised when it actually turns up there, or as if this was somehow an unintended outcome.
The DHS must have known precisely the tunnels would come into play, and perhaps that was the intention all along: to use the border fence in order to remove the mass migration problem from plain view; to blur and peripheralize, or, even tunnelize migration by forcing it into the narco-corridors of violent and illegal drug trafficking – which not only helps make “unauthorized” border crossing all the more criminalizeable, or especially perilous for border-crossers, but it buys the government a little extra time before they have to face a new wave of public objection to the rotted immigration system in the U.S.. Further, it exposes the border fence all the more for the shortsighted and shoddy policy of patch-jobs, wishful fortification, and pricey spectacular surveillance ‘theater’ that it is catering to the defense and prison industry, and paranoiac fears over national security. The tunnels have only linked the issue of migration with the political violence of the 'War on Drugs' as a very irresponsible consequence of the fence. So, now that your fence has created a vault of underground tunnels what's the next winning strategy -- if there is such a thing, policy reform? (Hold that thought).

Tunnelizing Migration 2, coming.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Galleries for the Art of War Play

[Image: MOUT structures fabricated from Conex containers for military training application. Photo courtesy of CMOUTS (]

I was telling a friend recently about various MOUT facilities militaries use around the world to play war in quasi-urban and eerily racialized mock training environments, or (as Pruned recently put it): “where soldiers rehearse over and over again like actors in a Hollywood studio” […] “with props on hand or littered about, they perfect their stage presence, try out some new moves and hand gestures, and fine tune their dialogues in front of cardboard cutouts of generic terrorists,” where they “practice their showstopper: walking through walls” before “it's time to step out in front of live television cameras, the whole world already a captive audience, to play out their well-choreographed routines.”

Later my friend asked me about specific developers, architects, and other contractors who are involved in these types of projects, and I had very few names for him.
This piece I posted earlier here on subtopes (which has been slightly amended for a forthcoming issue of Crit, the AIA Student Journal) gets into it a little bit, and there is some more in the links posted at the bottom of this post, but in doing a quick search I came across this “small female owned” business CMOUTS ( who, like many others, specializes in reusing and repurposing old shipping containers for future applications, military and commercial.

The company uses a widespread network of fabricators and its vast connections with international intermodal industry partners to modify a number of container types that can fit the needs of any client, they say – in the case the US Military, for whom the company spells a handy set of spaces that can be stacked and scaled to the dimensions of whatever warplay gamespace they imagine. Perhaps something close to the equivalent of sitting down to play a first person shooter on your X-Box while deciding which arena you want to play you toggle through various architectural options (tunnels, ducts, hostage rooms, trap doors, arenas, open street, etc.), only vaguely realized now.

Conex containers are rugged and durable enough to stand up to the rigors of troop training. MOUT structures made from containers are re-locatable, reconfigurable, and deployable via standard means of national and international transportation, namely truck, rail, and ship. - CMOUTS.

False cities made from scratch out of disused containers to store a new ideology of war -- like rough and tumble galleries housing the performance art of urban violence.

Anyway, I thought these images were worth reposting. The stark ready-made building blocks of future wars situated on their sales lot in perfect radiant marketing bliss. Like the new 'ghost town' film-sets of the modern Western.

Also check out: The "Village"; Tracking Blackwater in Potrero; Sim Baghdad; War Room; Peripheral Milit_Urb 5; Cities Made by War; Good Buildings, Bad Buildings; Bldgblog: A miniature city waiting for attack; War Play; From 'Happy Meal' to 'BattleBox'; Peering into the Arenas of War; Policetown, UK; MOUT Urbanism.

[All Images, courtesy of CMOUTS (]