As it pursued suspected terrorists in Pakistan, the CIA wasn't always certain of the identity of those it was killing: Some 25% of those taken out by drones over a span of 14 months beginning in September 2010 were categorized as "other militants," NBC News finds after reviewing classified documents. That category is reserved for targets whose affiliation (ie, al-Qaeda, Taliban) isn't clear to the CIA, which NBC says raises a big question: how could these individuals then be deemed a threat to US security? It may all boil down to the use of "signature" strikes, in which targets are identified via "circumstantial evidence" like behavioral patterns and associates, says a former White House official. Up to half the Pakistan strikes in 2009 to 2010 were signature strikes, says another ex-official.
Other former top Obama officials cite concerns about the accuracy of the CIA's own reporting of the attacks, including death tallies. Indeed, the numbers sometimes appear murky: One strike report says seven to 10 people were killed; another notes that 20 to 22 died. And the documents identify only one of 600 people killed in the 14-month period as a civilian. That's "just not believable," says a former State Department adviser. Worth noting: Though NBC calls its report "exclusive," McClatchy appears to have covered the same ground in April, the Atlantic Wire notes; Newser didn't cover the story that time around.