ATF Director Could Watch Live Video of Cartel Gun Buys--While Permitting Them to Proceed

By Edwin Mora | June 17, 2011 | 6:28 AM EDT

ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson

( - The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was able to watch live video surveillance feeds as intermediaries for Mexican drug cartels purchased guns at licensed U.S. firearms dealers for transhipment south of the border--while ATF agents in the field were specificaly ordered not to stop the purchases, intercept the purchasers after they made their deals, or retrieve the guns after they were bought.

Two guns purchased in this Obama Administration project dubbed "Operation Fast and Furious" were eventually retrieved--at the scene in Arizona of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was gunned down by alleged operatives of the Mexican drug cartels.

At a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wedneday, Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) released an internal ATF e-mail from April 2010 that shows that Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson wanted the Web address for hidden cameras located inside Arizona gun stores where the straw purchases were allowed to happen.

“With this information, Acting Director Melson was able to sit at his desk in Washington and himself watch a live feed of straw buyers entering the gun stores and purchasing dozens of AK-47 variants,” said Issa.

As part of “Operation Fast and Furious,” the ATF did nothing to stop the weapons from flowing to Mexican cartels because they were trying to track the guns.

ATF Special Agent John Dodson from ATF’s Phoenix field division testified on Wednesday that Melson was well aware of the operation:

“I recall in March of 2010, when Acting Director Melson came to the Phoenix Field Division, spoke about the case, knew the case agent by name, the group supervisor by name, and I believe even some of the defendants or would-be defendants in the case.”

Dodson added that his former group supervisor, Dave Voth, came to Washington to brief officials at ATF headquarters, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force that secured the funding for Operation Fast and Furious. All three are components of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Issa released two other ATF e-mails at Wednesday’s hearing as proof that “those at the highest level of ATF showed great interest” in Operation Fast and Furious.

“A document displayed on the screen now shows that two of the most senior leaders in ATF, Acting Director Kenneth Melson and Acting Deputy Director Billy Hoover, were being briefed weekly on Fast and Furious,” Issa said. “The documents show that both Melson and Hoover were keenly interested in the case and updates.”

The third email “shows Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon was so excited about Fast and Furious that he received a special briefing on the program in Phoenix, scheduled a mere 45 minutes after his plane landed.”

Issa told the committee that despite the “strong objection” of ATF field agents, Operation Fast and Furious continued – “and approximately 2,000 AK-47s and derivatives and some 50-caliber sniper rifles and others and 10,000 or more rounds of live ammunition went into the arsenals of the Mexican drug lords.”