By Brian Bennett, Washington Bureau
12:24 PM PDT, June 15, 2011
Reporting from Washington
A federal firearms investigation that allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of Mexican smugglers was closely monitored by the very top leaders of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to internal emails released Wednesday by a congressional committee.
The head of the ATF was briefed weekly on the operation, the emails show, and had asked for access to an online video stream that showed buyers going into the gun shop that was part of the sting operation.
The operation was designed to catch top echelon drug cartel traffickers in Mexico who would ultimately receive the weapons, but agents lost track of the guns.
Two weapons sold under ATF surveillance were found at the scene of the shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry outside of Nogales, Ariz., in December.
During a hearing Wednesday in Washington about the operation, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released six emails that show that ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson was being briefed weekly on Operation Gunrunner as of March 2010.
Some information in the emails has been blacked out.
One email, from the ATF Phoenix supervisor in charge of the case, responded to five detailed questions that Melson had asked, including how to log onto a live video feed of the pole cameras installed in Arizona to capture footage of straw buyers coming into a gun shop to buy weapons for sale in Mexico.
The email, dated March 11, 2010, gave the acting director the internet protocol address, the username and the password for logging into the live feed.
A spokeswoman for ATF directed a request for comment on the emails to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to phone calls.
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