The discussions surrounding the development of the playbook were centered on practical considerations, officials said. One of the main points of contention, they said, was the issue of “signature strikes.”
The term refers to the CIA’s practice of approving strikes in Pakistan based on patterns of suspicious behavior — moving stockpiles of weapons, for example — even when the agency does not have clear intelligence about the identities of the targets.
CIA officials have credited the approach with decimating al-Qaeda’s upper ranks there, paradoxically accounting for the deaths of more senior terrorist operatives than in the strikes carried out when the agency knew the identity and location of a target in advance.
Signature strikes contributed to a surge in the drone campaign in 2010, when the agency carried out a record 117 strikes in Pakistan. The pace tapered off over the past two years before quickening again in recent weeks.