UPDATED BELOW - We always thought that in the response by criminals to being exposed in the media you could distinguish three basic steps: One, attempts to co-opt the journalist, usually by offering exclusive access or advertising or bribes; two, legal action which in Panama comes down to filing criminal charges for "crimes against the honor"; and three: threats, harassment, (cyber) stalking and starting smear campaigns against the journalist(s). Usually, the last two - legal action and harassment - work in tandem.
How the web changes underworld PR
However, we've learned that there is a fourth element: cyber warfare. Criminals know that the truth about them being out there on the web, easily found on Google and through social media, will hurt their schemes and their ability to operate under the radar. As a consequence, they'll go through great lengths to make all that content disappear.
As such, the various websites of this author have suffered many hacking attacks, and I've had to beef up security. Just recently, your Bananama Republic was knocked offline because the lawyer of fraud artist Monte Friesner managed to convince our German web host servage.net with a fake Panamanian court order that we should be taken down. It didn't work, we were back online in just days, now hosted in free speech haven Iceland.
And then we found out something else.
Erase a site from Google
Google has a neat service, the so-called webmaster tools. It allows you to manage how your site is crawled and an array of other things. You can also remove URL's from the search index, for example if a page is no longer online. And, others can also request a URL to be removed. The condition is that there is either a valid court order or that the URL is not valid any more because it's offline. Here's the Google explanation.
Just after our move to Iceland, this website became less visible on Google. First we thought the move had something to do with that, but we decided to look a bit further. So when we logged into our webmaster tools account, we saw that right when we were offline because of Friesner's affair with the German web host, a third party had filed no less than 178 requests to remove Bananama Republic URL's from Google's search index, because they were no longer live.
And guess what? About 90% of these URL's had either to do with Monte Friesner, or with arms trafficker Marco Shrem, or with the people behind Silva Tree/Sustainable Capital Group, Patrick Visser, Maurice Sjerps and Keren Visser-Katz. Oh, and a little bit of Don Winner added for good measure.
Panama community organizing for criminals
There are several indications that these people work together. First, Don Winner has long been pushing for this site to be taken down, and has made many attempts to line up his criminal entourage to file as many criminal "honor" complaints against journalists like me and Eric Jackson as possible. Reported Eric Jackson in The Panama News:
However, in an attempt to turn his stormtrooper fantasy about shutting down media he doesn't like into fact, before taking this story off of his website Winner did offer to pay legal expenses of people who bring criminal charges against Okke. During his long campaign in support of convicted and habitual fraud artist and former "Patriot" militia shill Mark Boswell alias Rex Freeman and the latter's failed criminal defamation prosecution against the editor and publisher of The Panama News, he similarly encouraged others to file even more bogus criminal defamation complaints.
This is one of those occasions where Winner called for criminals to "band together":
Irresponsible writers and reporters can effectively spread their wrath out against a wide audience of victims, but the complaints of their victims against the writers effectively become condensed to a fine point, thanks to the way the legal prosecution system is established. The trick seems to be banding together as victims to compel serial slanderers to be more responsible and contemplative in their reporting through legal action.
Then, at a court session because of one of these bogus complaints, filed by Patrick Visser & friends, career criminal Monte Friesner showed up too, and they were all obviously well acquainted with each other.
Visser and/or his accomplices of Silva Tree had made earlier attempts to have Bananama Republic URL's removed from the Google indexes in England and Israel.
Nice try, but big fail
So, did the attempts to disappear Bananama Republic from Google work? Nope. We found out about it royally in time to have all the URL's restored into Google's search results. Do a search on any of the names mentioned above and we're among the first three results, if not the first. We're even better indexed than before. So, it didn't work; it backfired.
The entire affair goes to show that the playing field in online investigative journalism has changed substantially and we, honest journalists, better be aware of what the subjects of our investigations may try to have the truth about them suppressed. But it also makes it very clear that a website like the one you're reading now is a powerful tool that panics and scares those whose activities can't stand the light of day.
UPDATE: Good heavens, how could we forget him! Remember Tom Lennon? He was Tom McMurrain's right-hand man in the San Cristobal noni and teak swindle (part 1, part 2), until McMurrain kicked him out because Lennon was spending too much time impersonating other people, making threats, boozing, banging a teenage prostitute called "Pocahontas" and powdering his nose during the Miami boat show - all of which he calls "entrepreneurial thinking". Indeed, he was too much of a moron even for McMurrain. Here's some of what I wrote about him and his Miami Boat Show adventures:
"We all knew it was a wash from the first moment and Tom [Lennon] just used the opportunity to spend money," says Connie Lee, one of the sales people who left San Cristobal after the debacle. Instead of making sales, Lennon and his entourage would visit various clubs where he would hand the guitar player a hundred dollar bill to go on stage himself and play. Usually arriving back to his presidential suite while the sun rose, he would be seen in the company of a New Jersey stripper and a gay hairdresser, while ordering bottles of Jack Daniels to the room. "They all looked powdered up" says Connie Lee. By the time the show was over, San Cristobal had made no sales, but Lennon had left having earned the nickname "Hot Pants."
Meanwhile, Tom Lennon, a/k/a "Hot Pants," returned to Panama where a 19-year-old woman nicknamed "Pocahontas" had been waiting for him all that time. "I miss you so mosh," she wrote to Lennon, whom she calls "Jaques Cousteau." This would all be utterly unimportant were it not that information about Cousteau's amourette in Panama being forwarded to me induced him to start a malicious campaign of cyber stalking and death threats against me and a foreign businessman as well as his girlfriend, whom Lennon held responsible for telling me about his encounters with Pocahontas. Using email addresses that appeared to be mine, like email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, he sent out messages to me as well as to this foreign businessman telling him to better leave the country as it would no longer be safe, quoting home addresses and passport numbers and similar vicious stuff. The unfortunate businessman from up north and his girlfriend even had the dubious pleasure of "Fats," one of McMurrain's bodyguards, looking them up in a restaurant and, in front of several witnesses, telling them they should leave Panama or else. The "else" was illustrated by pointing an imaginary gun to his head. Later, Fats, who is described in a police report from the Bocas police as a drug dealer with a history of violence, claimed to have acted on orders of Tom Lennon, and repeats that claim in front of the police.
Me and my team then had AT&T techs look into the threatening emails and they determined that indeed they came from Lennon.
Well, this was in 2003, but 10 years later Tom Lennon still hasn't recovered from the blow, although he continues to rip people off (advance fee fraud) and got himself arrested. To restore his reputation - as far as he ever had one - he is now one of Monte Friesner's new best friends. Go to his website and look in the column on the right. He links to virtually every piece of smear Friesner et al have ever written about me. Good luck with that, bozo.
There’s no doubt the net is double-edged. However, what this band of hoods seem to forget is that because they can manipulate things to their advantage within the borders of Panama, doesn’t mean they have the same ability when there are no borders to speak of.
What concerns me is how implacable these guys are.