Has The Software And Security Pioneer Gone “Bonkers”?
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
UPDATE December 3, 1400 UTC: There are conflicting reports and rumors swirling whether Belize police have actually captured John McAfee, or if he remains at large. On December1, someone posted a short note on the “Who Is McAfee?” blog. “We have received an unconfirmed report that John McAfee has been captured at the border of Belize and Mexico,” reads the terse post; “More information as it is received.”
Then on December 3, a new post on McAfee’s blog – again, apparently not by McAfee himself – reported that “after losing contact with Mr. McAfee we received a voicemail from an anonymous caller ID. In the message the gentleman stated, ‘John was picked up crossing the Mexican border.’ We have not received word back from this individual…”
10 hours later, a new post appeared, titled simply “I Am Safe.” But the contents of the post are anything but simple:
I apologize for the silence, and misdirection. I am currently safe and in the company of two intrepid journalist from Vice Magazine, and, of course, Sam. We are not in Belize, but not quite out of the woods yet. I will do a more detailed posting later today if all goes well. My “double”, carrying on a North Korean passport under my name, was in fact detained in Mexico for pre-planned misbehavior, but due to indifference on the part of authorities was evicted from the jail and was unable to serve his intended purpose in our exit plan. He is now safely out of Mexico.
While some media are reporting McAfee’s catpure, Peter Delevett over at Silicon Beat reports that police in San Pedro, Belize, are denying they have him. As a second source, Jorge Aldana of the San Pedro Sun said on Saturday night “I can tell you positively that John McAfee has not been captured.”
Curiouser and curiouser.
November 20, 2012
“With lots of time on my hands and very little to do with it, I’ve been reflecting on the recent detour my life has taken,” writes someone calling himself John McAfee. “How did I end up as a murder suspect on the lam?”
So begins the first blog entry on “Who Is McAfee?”, a website – and a story – that gets more bizarre with each new day.
Let’s back up a bit.
You may not recognize his name, but if you own a personal computer, chances are you know John McAfee’s work. A former computer programmer for NASA and Lockheed, McAfee in 1987 founded McAfee Associates, a computer security company. His anti-virus programs became wildly popular, and McAfee got very rich, ultimately selling his interest in the firm for $100 million in 1996. (Now renamed simply “McAfee”, the firm remains one of the largest computer security software companies in the world.)
McAfee moved to the Caribbean nation of Belize and spent several years dabbling in various projects. However, a series of bad investments and the global fiscal crunch whittled his fortune to just a few million. And it’s just about here the weirdness began.
Early in 2012 Belize police raided McAfee’s home on the suspicion that he was manufacturing illegal drugs on his property, which McAfee denied. No charges were filed and McAfee was soon released, but some police officials raised public concern that John McAfee was having sex with underage girls living at his house. McAfee accused the police of being little better than thugs hired to rough him up for bribes. The police say McAfee had illegal guns. McAfee says the police shot his dog. The events left a foul taste for everyone.
Then on November 10, McAfee’s neighbor, Gregory Viant Faull, was found dead from a gunshot. Belize police sought out McAfee – they say for simple questioning – but McAfee was nowhere to be found. Officials quickly put out a warrant for his arrest and labeled him the prime suspect in Faull’s murder.
In an interview with Wired magazine that can charitably be called odd, McAfee denied any involvement with Faull’s murder, telling Wired’s Joshua Davis that if the police caught him, he was convinced they would torture and kill him. Since then, the millionaire computer genius says he’s slept under cars, darkened his face with shoe polish, stuffed his nose with a tampon and dyed his hair to remain hidden. McAfee says he’s posed as a drunken German tourist and a Guatemalan salesman – even fooling an AP reporter covering the story. His only companion, he says, is a 17-year-old girl named “Samantha.”
Just how do we know this?
Because while he’s been on the lam, John McAfee also decided to start up a blog: “whoismcafee.com” Not surprisingly, the blog is generating more questions than answers.
“It’s absolutely him,” says the blog’s administrator, cartoonist and McAfee friend Chad Essley, who says he set up the blog but that its posts are genuinely authored by McAfee while fleeing police. Not everyone’s a believer.
“There is so much about the John McAfee soap opera that is unbelievable that it might seem pointless to highlight a single slice of malarkey,” writes Paul McNamara at NetWorkWorld. “Allow me to flag what I consider to be the fishiest tidbit in a tale that just reeks of low tide.”
McNamara notes that the blog’s masthead, which reads “The Hinterlands” is also the title of the soon-to-be-published biography of McAfee…written by Chad Essley. More, in a recent post McAfee says he’s pre-stocked the blog with enough content to last a year – a strange thing for a guy who’s running from the police and sleeping on lice-filled beds, says McNamara.
The blog contains discursive posts about the Mennonites of Belize, the love of young women, accusations of arrests and taunts of the media and police. Some say they read his blog as having said he’s manufactured mass quantities of illegal drugs; others say he just sounds paranoid. “I would go so far as to say bonkers,” said Belize’s Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Whatever his guilt or innocence, mental health or instability, John McAfee’s story is playing out real-time online. Using the Internet, he is both hiding from view, and putting himself on international display.
Fitting for a man who knows so much about computer security.