Moreover, the article admits, "there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown." These are the victims of what the CIA calls "signature strikes," where the targets are supposedly acting in a fashion typical of terrorist groups, even if no actual terrorists have been identified.
According to the Times, "the word evolved to mean the 'signature' of militants in general -- for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups." Given that virtually every adult man in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia carries a weapon, that makes the entire population of these regions subject to summary execution by the American president.
Remarkably, but characteristically, the Times article cites criticism of the drone missile assassination program only from the standpoint of its expediency, noting US foreign policy experts who believe the widespread killings of innocent people are counterproductive and have produced a political backlash against the United States and its foreign policy throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa.
Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International have publicly denounced the assassination program as illegal under international law, but these declarations have been censored by the Times and by the American media as a whole.
A survey of press reporting on the drone program Sunday shows that the British newspaper Guardian quoted extensively from the ACLU's spokesman Jameel Jaffer and other critics, but there was nothing in the American press. Jaffer described the Times article as a "self-serving leak" and expressed skepticism over the extent of the divisions said to exist among White House, Pentagon and intelligence officials.
"The suggestion is that there is a significant debate going on within the administration about the scope of the government's authority to carry out targeted killings," he told the Guardian. "I would question the significance of the debate ... the gap between the sides is narrow."
In the American media and political establishment, there is not a hint of opposition to the drone assassination program on any principled grounds.
The Washington Post, in an article also published Sunday, noted that Obama's selection of a new CIA director to replace David Petraeus, who resigned November 9, could affect the drone program. All three of those prominently mentioned for the position are former or current CIA officers and diehard supports of the assassination program, however.
These include the acting director of the CIA, Michael Morell, who served as deputy director under Petraeus and has spent his entire career at the agency. Michael Vickers, 59, now a top Pentagon military intelligence official, is described as "the most ardent supporter of the agency's expanded paramilitary role."
The third potential nominee is White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. Like the Times, the Post presents Brennan as the advocate of restraint, claiming, "In recent months, he has expressed concern within the administration that the agency has become too focused on targeted killings, even though he has presided over the sharp expansion of the drone campaign under Obama."
In addition to not challenging the basic premise of the drone program -- that the US president has the right to kill anyone in the world he designates as a "terrorist," without any judicial, constitutional or international oversight -- the Times article fails to note the dire implications of the policy of drone warfare, both internationally and within the United States.
So far as we know now, no drone missile attacks have targeted individuals living in the United States. But there is no reason to believe that will be the case indefinitely.
On the contrary, the domestic use of drones has already begun, under the terms of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which Obama signed into law February 14. This requires the FAA to permit nationwide use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by September 2015. Dozens of police departments and even private corporations have applied for permits to use drones.
The military use of drones has begun along the US-Mexico border, and it is only a matter of time before these are armed and used to fire missiles at targets who will be identified as "terrorists," "people smugglers," "drug cartels" and the like.
From there, it is a short step to the use of drone-fired missiles in domestic law enforcement operations, and then more widely against the growth of social and political opposition to the policies of the American ruling elite.
Internationally, as well, the Obama administration's promotion of drone warfare has inevitable consequences. Other countries possess drone technology, or will develop it. An arms race is well underway. According to one press report on the weekend, the UN is considering seeking drones for use in monitoring armed groups in the eastern Congo.