(Newsroom America) -- A confidential Justice Department memo obtained by NBC News sets out a legal framework for killing U.S. citizens outside the United States, which the news organization said included circumstances where there was "no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S."
It says the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be leaders of al-Qaida or an associated terrorist force.
The memo details a three-part test that would make targeted killings of Americans overseas lawful, which is as follows:
1. An informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted American poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
2. Capture is infeasible;
3. The operation is conducted in a manner consistent with the four fundamental principles of the laws of war governing the use of force.
The memo said the use of pilot-less aircraft or smart bombs in carrying out targeting killings "would not result in a violation of any due process rights."
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech last year that targeted killings of Americans could be justified if government officials determine the target posed "an imminent threat of violent attack."
However NBC News said the leaked memo introduces "a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described by Mr Holder.
The memo reportedly refers to a "broader concept of imminence" than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.
"The condition that an operational leader present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future," the memo said.