The director of the FBI, whose agency is under fire over the siege at Randy Weaver’s cabin, said Friday that he has imposed broad new controls on the elite unit sent to the scene during the standoff at Ruby Ridge.
“It’s my position that I should take a much more conservative approach to deployment,” the director, Louis Freeh, said in an interview.
He made the comments just one day after a panel of senators expressed exasperation as they questioned sharpshooters from the elite unit, known as the Hostage Rescue Team, about the circumstances surrounding the death of Randall Weaver’s wife, Vicki. She was shot by one of the marksmen.
In the past, officials below the level of the FBI director were responsible for deployment decisions. But Freeh said that from now on he would decide when the full unit, with its heavily armed snipers and assault specialists, should be sent to a crisis - and then only after far more careful scrutiny than was exercised in the past.
“In the non-emergency, non-reaction situation,” Freeh said of future decisions on when to employ the hostage team, “it will not be a reflexive or an easy reaction.”
In cases like the Ruby Ridge incident when another law enforcement agency asked for the FBI’s assistance, Freeh said he will dispatch a survey team before sending the rescue unit.
At Ruby Ridge, the team was hurriedly dispatched after receiving an urgent request from federal marshals when an agent was killed in a gunfight in which Weaver’s son was also killed. The decision to deploy the unit was based on conflicting and highly exaggerated accounts of events at the scene, and several lawmakers have questioned the necessity of sending the team.
After the Idaho operation in Au gust 1992 and the team’s controversial tear-gas assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993, Freeh enacted several organizational changes in the way the unit operates. But his comments Friday represented the first time he has said he would restrict deployment of the unit.
Freeh defended the agents, who said the shooting was justified. Nonetheless, he said he would never again permit crisis managers to adopt “rules of engagement,” as they did in Idaho, that relaxed the FBI lethal force policy.