Wow. Spoiler : It has long been the stuff of drug-trafficking legend, but federal authorities announced on Saturday that they have helped seize the first known and fully operational submarine built by drug traffickers to smuggle tons of cocaine from South America toward the United States. The diesel-electric powered submarine was captured in an Ecuadorian jungle waterway leading to the Pacific Ocean, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The sub, which is about 100 feet long and equipped with a periscope, was seized before its maiden voyage by Ecuadorian authorities armed with DEA intelligence. The discovery is seen by authorities as a game-changer in terms of the challenge it poses not only to fighting drugs but to national security as well. "The submarine's nautical range, payload capacity, and quantum leap in stealth have raised the stakes for the counter-drug forces and the national security community alike," said DEA Andean Regional Director Jay Bergman. It is unclear how far the camouflage-painted submarine could have traveled, but it is believed to be sophisticated enough to cover thousands of miles and certainly to make it to the North American coast. "There is a sense of urgency for naval engineers and submariners to take a look at this thing and dissect it and take it apart and figure out what its real capabilities were," Bergman said. "The police have seized this structure, but the people that need to get on there are naval engineers." Bergman noted that traffickers have used speed boats, sail boats, fishing boats and specialized craft that float low in the water, but this is the first true submarine discovered. "Now that the Loch Ness Monster has been found, the interdiction community is going to retool their search patterns and how they conduct business," he said. Back in 2000 in a Bogota, Colombia, warehouse authorities thought they'd found the first ever narco submarine, but it turned out to be an enclosed boat that floated low in the water, rather than completely under the surface. The submarine seized in Ecuador was built in what was described as a clandestine dry dock of industrial proportions and even had housing for dozens of workers. It marks what could be argued as the final frontier for traffickers who have squared off against law enforcement on the land, in the air and on the sea, and now look to go beneath the waves to reach lucrative drug markets. "There is no place else they can go in terms of maritime," Bergman said. "The traffickers have now exhausted every possibility." Among the questions is who could have designed such a sophisticated machine, as well as piloted it. But the biggest issue haunting federal agents is this: How many more might be out there? "The DEA is very good," Bergman said, "but what are the odds of us detecting the first one ever built before it got underway? I'd say this is the first one we caught." Larry Karson, a retired Customs Service agent who is a criminal justice lecturer at the University of Houston Downtown, said the DEA very well could have found the only real narco sub. He noted that it isn't easy to keep a dry dock covert, let alone all the people involved. "It is feasible," said Karson, who noted that for years authorities have heard rumors of drug traffickers getting a submarine. But most figured traffickers would most likely buy a used one, not make their own. "I think everybody has been looking for it, it has been a matter of time," he said. "There was a rumor somebody would find a used one on the market. We've been using them since the Civil War." He noted that the former Navy P-3s that now are used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to search for sea and airborne traffickers sneaking loads toward the United States might have to revert to their old submarine hunting mission. Finding the sub comes as part of a long-term cat and mouse game in which authorities have combed jungles and flown over thousands of miles of open ocean each week in an attempt to deny traffickers easy access to their U.S. markets. As Bergman put it: "This is the final frontier for the maritime drug traffickers. We remained completely incredulous until the last minute." "Good cops never underestimate their enemy or the ingenuity of the adversary," he said. "But seeing is believing and that is what this day is."