When President Donald Trump visited CIA headquarters in the first weeks of his presidency, he toured the secure floor where agency officers direct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, current and former U.S. officials told NBC News.
Impressed by what he saw, Trump conveyed to incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the assembled agency officers that he wanted them to take a more aggressive posture, according to two current U.S. officials and one former official briefed on the visit.
Soon afterward, multiple sources said, the CIA began carrying out drone strikes that might not have been authorized under the Obama administration, including in Syria, where the military has taken the lead on targeting militant leaders.
The White House granted CIA officers more autonomy to decide on whether and when the U.S. can pull the trigger in various places around the world, including in Yemen, where the military carries out the bulk of the airstrikes, according to four U.S. officials who have been briefed on the agency's counterterrorism operations. The upshot is less micromanaging of targeting decisions by the White House, these officials say.