NBC News reports that US drones can launch a “personality” strike or a “signature” strike. The personality strike relies upon intel collected from the field and the target is very specifically identified. Drone operators know the name of the person being assassinated from a distance. That's troubling, but the signature strike is far more troubling. The signature strike depends on following behavior patterns in the person being observed. As a blog post of 2006 observed, our intel services have “been there, done that.” Person A might call Person B. B might call Person C's number. Person A might later call the number for Person C as well. Is this a small group of terrorists keeping in touch with each other? Actually, probably not. These connections actually got a nickname: “Pizza Hut connections.” Person A might indeed be calling Person B because B is a friend, but Person C often turned out to be a pizza delivery place or some similar business that both A and B used. Countless man-hours were wasted running down just such useless connections. Of course “According to President Bush, the NSA spy program was used only for gathering intelligence on citizens suspected of plotting with Al Qaida inside the United States,” and hey, we all know how reliable and truthful Bush was, eh? So, it's really far from clear that the targeting the US Government used was anywhere near as precise in reality as it was in theory.
It certainly sounds from the NBC piece that today's drone strikes are much better planned and that the intel is much more substantiated, but there is the past to consider.