The Maryland sniper is not a particularly nice fellow.

This much we all know. Something less obvious however is just what kind of bad’un he is. Home-grown or foreign? Psycho or terrorist (not a mutually exclusive classification by any means)? Loner or partner or cog in some much larger scheme? There have been those who have put forth what are by no means outlandish theories that he is part of a plan to divert attention from hidden machinations of a truly awful sort, ie, distract the cops while we move this nuclear bomb into place.

I find that suppostion unlikely, but certainly not impossible, and the consequences would be so horrific that even with slight probability, it bears thinking about.

But whatever the reason, the methodology of the actual killings is simple, direct and effective. But that effectiveness extends only as far as the limited goal of such a sniping campaign can reach (in the immediate sense, excluding the possibility that this masks some greater plot): of killing a few random people spread out over long periods of time.

In this way, one could say that sniping is the quintessential terror weapon, even more so than suicide or other forms of bombing, because sniping is the ultimate expression of asymetrical warfare . One man (maybe two) likely working entirely from his own pool of resources with basic equipment available literally anywhere conducting a personal campaign of sowing fear through (what is actually quite a remote) threat of random violence against a populace which posesses the most powerful military and economy in the world.

The 9/11 attacks were terrorism, to be sure, but they were also strategic strikes designed to have the strongest effect on our miltary and economy. Putting aside the loss of life for a moment (though certainly not to trivialize them), the economic cost of the WTC, not only in the sheer cost of the structures themselves but the monetary loss resulting from the financial and economic chaos has been estimated at 95 billion for the city of New York alone. This is excepting the billions of dollars lost to the national impact the attacks had on airlines and other industries.

The Pentagon, being the command center for the US’ military, was a perfectly reasonable choice for those seeking to cripple our force effectiveness worldwide. Concerning the WTC towers, it was pointed out (though not often or loudly, for obvious reasons) that one of the largest economic losses in the attack was the death of thousands of skilled finance personnel. I’m sure a similar aim was in the mind of Al Qeada when they planned to hit the Pentagon, hoping that, with the building itself, thousands of the United States’ most capable military personnel would perish, leaving a large hole in America’s military command structure.

That would have been a much greater cost than the loss of the Pentagon itself in my opinion, and I am thus very relieved that the extent of the destruction wasn’t greater (on top of the simple fact of course that I’m glad more people didn’t die, period) .

It’s no doubt true that both of these targets had a great amount of symbolic value as well, being the immediate icons of our economic and military might, but one cannot discount that their destruction had very real, very concrete very significant measureable costs completely aside from the intended psychological impact on the American people.

Sniping however (especially the manner in which it is being done in Maryland – a single man attacking civilians randomly) is an act whose only significant effect is psychological. Any loss of life to unjustified violence is a tragedy, but the impact is real social costs is virtually nonexistent save for those that follow from the psychological effect: people afraid to go out or go to work, etc. What’s more, while understandable, those fears are largely unjustified, unless one walks around constantly fearful of getting struck by lightning or falling down the stairs and breaking their neck or slipping in the shower or dying in a car crash, since all of these things are still much more likely than getting killed by the sniper, even when one limits the sample of people purely to the radius in which he has thus far operated. You’re talking about less than a score of people killed over 3 weeks from among a population of about about 10 million.

If there is a large amount of fear sufficient to cause a noticable effect on the population at large, it is an irrational one. Of course one cannot simply say “Get over it, folks,” because reacting with such fear to the prospect of being killed in a violent, heretofore unknown way is natural, even if the specter of the threat vastly outweighs the possibility that it would actually touch you.

So in this manner, it is the ultimate terrorist campaign, in the sense that it is the most purely psychologically oriented .

And that is the reason why we don’t have to worry about him.

He is an annoyance. A gadfly buzzing around our heads. A lone actor bent on terrorizing, but one who cannot manage to do more than cause grief and pain among the families and friends of those he killed. His entire effect is emotional, psychological. In this case, it is actually very true that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, because he really can’t hurt us.

This does not mean that law enforcement should not use all available resources to catch and stop him, because he is still a mass-murdering scum that deserves to be wiped from the face of the Earth.

But in the larger context, in the war on terror and issues of America’s and the world’s security, this pathetic little shitstain of a human being doesn’t matter .

With this in mind, I read the following Guardian editorial, Lessons of the Sniper in the Suburbs, in which Martin Kettle writes,

The second wider resonance, though, echoes far beyond the Beltway. It echoes, in fact, to the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Iraq and the beaches of Bali. Few people in the United States seem to ask themselves whether there are wider lessons for American strategy to be learned from the continuing failure to catch the sniper operating almost on the White House’s doorstep. Working with the most sophisticated equipment, with no resource constraints of any kind, and with 100% support and cooperation from the local population – in other words, in the optimum imaginable conditions – the police have neither caught their man nor been able to prevent him from striking again.

Kettle seems to think because we haven’t been able to stop this sniper, that somehow this translates into a sign of our less-than-savory chances of stopping the threat of Islamic/Arab terrorism.

It’s nonsense, pure and simple.

The reason the sniper hasn’t been caught is because of the manner of his methodology, and it is this same methodology that stops him from being any kind of real threat. It’s hard to catch someone who works completely by himself, unhinged from any kind of logistical needs, and who simply lies in wait in a crowded urban area for an easy target to present itself . But likewise, it’s impossible to pose any kind of actual, tangible threat to society at large using those methods.

Saying that our inability to catch the Maryland sniper speaks ill of our chances in the WOT would not be significantly different than saying a string of liquor store robberies with the culprit still at large says the same thing, because that robber, like the sniper, is pursuing operations in the limited scope of criminality, not war.

Because of this, they do not have the same needs that an Al Qeada does, needs such as numbers and recruitment and funding and logistics and communication, which make targeting and eradicating them much easier, because each of those requirements raises their level of exposure and the number of avenues you can use to pursue them.

In short, Al Qeada and the Maryland sniper do not bear any real functional resemblance to each other, and likewise the methods and expectations for success in stopping them are just as different. One has no bearing on the other.

And even if he is part of some larger terrorist scheme, this would be an even greater incentive to not treat him with particularly special attention, because it will only draw law enforcement away from the task of discovering whatever plot he is supposed to be distracting us from.

The man is a despicable bug, and we should find him and put him down. But we shouldn’t let him influence our will or actions in the War on Terror.

last update : 24-11-2017

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