It was then that I discovered the term ‘signature strike.’ These strikes are an exercise in profiling, absent of evidence or even names of targets — effectively acting as judge, jury, and executioners of tribal Pakistan. The confluence of testimonials from tribal-people, and a new understanding of signature strikes brought me to one particular drone strike on the village of Datta Khel, North Waziristan and resulted in Brave New Foundation’s latest investigatory video.

On March 17, 2011 a CIA-controlled drone fired as many as four missiles at what they thought was a large group of militants in the village of Datta Khel. In fact, they targeted a peaceful Tribal Council, or Jirga, massacring over 40 tribal leaders and devastating entire communities… At Datta Khel, the CIA saw a large group of armed men gathering for a meeting and summarily nominated them for execution. -Robert Greenwald, Brave New Foundation in an article for the Huffington Post.

Signature strikes are a significant part of America’s counter-terrorism strategy, but they are not in and of themselves sustainable or even needed as currently used.  The targets are selected for killing based largely on network analysis.  Using various means, the United States government looks at who is talking to who, who they are meeting with, and generally, whether or not their actions mimic those of a terrorist.  If so, they can be targeted for a drone strike.  Signature strikes do not require the CIA to even know the name of the person they are assassinating, they simply fire on an electronic signature that looks like that of a terrorist.

The end results are not pretty and there has been far, far more collateral damage than the CIA and law makers would like to admit.  At this point the CIA, Congress, and the White House all act like three blind mice who don’t know what is going on and don’t want to.

Furthermore, signature strikes, as currently practiced, need to be scaled up and they would not be sustainable on a larger, or on a global, scale.  As we have seen, our counter-terrorism policy is spreading everywhere as the War on Terror in Afghanistan begins to draw down.  Now we have operations going in Libya, Mali, the Philippines, the Congo, and elsewhere.  This is why we will eventually transition away from pure signature strikes to what we can call threshold strikes.

Some theorists such as John Robb and Daniel Suarez speculate that in the near future every person in the world will be assigned a number.  It will be like a credit score that the US government keeps track of, but in this case it will be a terror score.  Hopefully you will at least start with a zero score in this new paradigm…

As a person’s electronic signature begins to cross certain trip wires, their terror score will increase.  Hanging out on Jihad websites: 5 points.  E-mailing a radical sheik in Yemen: 10 points.  Buying large quantities of chemical fertilizer at home depot: 15 points.  Once your terror score reaches a certain threshold, you will then be targeted for assassination.  This process will be completely automated.

It gets better though because what we see today in Pakistan with the CIA’s drone program is just the tip of the iceberg.  In the future, the NSA will be even more intrusive and pervasive in its surveillance.  Unblinking Intelligence, Surveillance, Recon (ISR) platforms such as blimps will hover above target areas for long stretches of time.  Eventually, some long duration platform may be running ISR over nearly the entire world.  As individuals meet the threshold, a bomb gets dropped on them.  One day the actually killing will shift from primitive Predator type drones to a orbital weapons platform, probably a satellite network equipped with high powered lasers.