By Cora Currier, ProPublica
Earlier this week, we wrote about a significant but often overlooked aspect of the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen: so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. kills people whose identities aren't confirmed. While President Obama and administration officials have framed the drone program as targeting particular members of Al Qaeda, attacks against unknown militants reportedly may account for the majority of strikes.
The government apparently calls such attacks signature strikes because the targets are identified based on intelligence "signatures" that suggest involvement in terror plots or militant activity.
So what signatures does the U.S. look for and how much evidence is needed to justify a strike?
The Obama administration has never spoken publicly about signature strikes. Instead, generally anonymous officials have offered often vague examples of signatures. The resulting fragmentary picture leaves many questions unanswered.
In Pakistan, a signature might include:
- Convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run. – Senior American and Pakistani officials,New York Times, February 2008.
- "Terrorist training camps." – U.S.Diplomatic Cable released by Wikileaks, October 2009.
- Gatherings of militant groups or training complexes. – Current and former officials, Los Angeles Times, January 2010.
- Bomb-making or fighters training for possible operations in Afghanistan…. a compound where unknown individuals were seen assembling a car bomb. – Officials, Los Angeles Times, May 2010.
- Travel in or out of a known al-Qaeda compound or possession of explosives. – U.S. officials, Washington Post, February 2011.
- Operating a training camp… consorting with known militants. – High-level American official, The New Yorker, September 2011.