The expansion of the CIA’s undeclared drone war in the tribal areas of Pakistan required a big expansion of who can be marked for death. Once the standard for targeted killing was top-level leadership in al-Qaeda or one of its allies. That’s long gone, especially as the number of people targeted at once has grown.
This is the new standard, according to a blockbuster piece in the Wall Street Journal: “men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.” The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups. The article does not define the standards are for “suspicion” and “association.”
Strikes targeting those people — usually “groups” of such people — are called “signature” strikes. “The bulk of CIA’s drone strikes are signature strikes,” the Journal’s Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes report.