Donald Trump's Tunnels -- And Why His Wall Would Fail

Portrait of American businessman Donald Trump, with a shovel, and unidentified others during the ground-breaking ceremony for
Portrait of American businessman Donald Trump, with a shovel, and unidentified others during the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the ballroom at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 2003. (Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

It's true, I have not hung on every word of Donald Trump's campaign speeches over the past year, but until Wednesday night I had not heard him explicitly mention how he would combat the inevitable "escape" tunnels under his promised Great Wall of Mexico. Here's how he put it, after repeating that he would build the wall, and Mexico would (no matter what its president just told him) pay for it.

We will use the best technology, including above- and below-ground sensors. That's the tunnels. Remember that. Above- and below- ground sensors, towers, aerial surveillance and manpower to supplement the wall, find and dislocate tunnels and keep out criminal cartels.

Trump had recently told CNN that any escapes would be thwarted by "tunnel technology."

Now, there are plenty of differences between the Berlin Wall of 1961-1989 and the current, and future, border barrier with Mexico, as I make clear in my new book The Tunnels. To state the most obvious: in Berlin it was built by a government attempting to keep its people in, while in the current scenario it is constructed by the other country to keep people out. However, they also have much in common, including the fact that in both cases tunnels were or will be built by individuals desperate to flee their country; and the brutal, elaborate security systems used to monitor escapes, including (as Trump mentioned) guard towers, barbed wire, electronic sensors, snipers with rifles, and all the rest. A 481-foot tunnel under the current "wall," used to smuggle drugs to the West, was discovered not long ago.

This seems to be a hot topic. The New York Times has just posted an article titled "As Donald Trump Calls for Wall on Mexican Border, Smugglers Dig Tunnels." They count 200 tunnels so far, used for various reasons:

But no technology exists to reliably detect the tunnels, and experts say it may be years before such a system is developed....Border Patrol agents cannot hear smugglers digging and do not know how many tunnels there are, a gap in border security that homeland security experts say renders talk of a wall moot.

My book focuses on escape tunnels dug under the Wall in 1962 by brave young students in West Berlin attempting to "rescue" friends, family, lovers and strangers in the East, and how JFK and the Kennedy administration tried to suppress NBC and CBS coverage of them. But it also explores the other modes of escape at the time, from using fake passports to fleeing via sewers, swimming across rivers, climbing the Wall, blowing a hole in it, hiding under the back seats of automobiles, and more-and the many dozens of East Germans slain by guards or Stasi in the process. This brought worldwide shame to the East German government and their Soviet backers, besides causing mental breakdowns by guards ordered to carry out the shootings. And it would be Americans, under President Trump, who would be doing the killing.

Make no mistake: tunnels would be excavated, despite the Trump "sensors" and "technology" and "towers."

I'll have much more to say about this in the months ahead, but for now, here's what happened in the most famous shooting at the Wall, which I call, "The Murder of Peter Fechter."