Managing the Standoff

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JORDAN, Montana: As the Montana "freemen" standoff ends its fifth day, TIME's Patrick Dawson reports that both the FBI and the Justice Department are being more secretive about the extent of their operation in Montana. Agents are keeping reporters as far as possible from the scene. "FBI agents stop reporters at gunpoint at the ranch road entrance" says TIME's Patrick Dawson. "It is a PR nightmare for the agency. After the Weaver-Waco business, the FBI is putting a lid on this standoff and trying to keep anything from leaking out." Trying to avoid another situation like Waco or Ruby Ridge, FBI officials have posted only a few agents at crossroads far from the "Justus Township" farm so that the dozen armed fugitives do not feel they are under siege. The government has also deployed a special crisis management unit, the Critical Incident Response Group, along with the usual SWAT teams. The CIRG, which will conduct negotiations, is one innovations initiated by FBI director Louis Freeh after the death of more than 75 people in the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. New rules now allow agents to use deadly force only when they, or hostages, face "imminent death or serious physical injury." Freeh has also taken a hands-on approach to this crisis, receiving hourly reports from Billings and consulting continually with Attorney General Janet Reno.