The North Carolina-based company was given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders and was awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry, but the program was canceled before any missions were conducted, the two officials said.

The assassination program — revealed to Congress in June by CIA Director Leon Panetta — was initially launched in 2001 as a CIA-led effort to kill or capture top al-Qaeda members using the agency’s paramilitary forces. But in 2004, after briefly terminating the program, agency officials decided to revive it under a different code name, using outside contractors, the officials said.

“Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong,” said a retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program…

The effort, known to intelligence officials as the “targeted killing” program, was originally conceived for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but officials later sought to expand it to other countries in the region, according to a source familiar with its inception.