02 Jul John McAfee: Introduction To My True Life Story
Written by John McAfee on Wed., Oct. 21, 2015
– Steve Morgan, Editor-in-Chief
Sausalito, Calif. – Jul. 2, 2021
Let’s not dance on John McAfee’s grave. According to the Associated Press, he was found dead at 75 in his jail cell near Barcelona, Spain on Jun. 23, 2021. If there was a price to be paid for his transgressions, then a satisfaction and release has been received.
On Oct. 21, 2015, McAfee penned this Introduction to “McAfee Unplugged” — his true life story, a book I was contracted to write in collaboration with him.
The passage, through time and space, of the fragile being I call “me,” has left footmarks that others have analyzed with varying degrees of benevolence or malice. I would like to present my own version, completely devoid of either. This is no small task, since it requires that I remove my own judgement from a long story that I myself acted out and must take responsibility for. It is unlikely that I will fully succeed since I share, with all other humans, the same frailties of pride, prejudice and all the rest. I would hope, however, that my awareness of my own frailties, coupled with my advanced age, might give me a chance to at least come within view of my goal.
I can forgive those who have chronicled my adventures with a skeptical eye. It is difficult, even living within this skin, to understand much of my actions. I cannot give satisfactory answers, for example, to why I was unfaithful to my first girlfriend or why I lied to my parents or why I shrugged so many of my responsibilities — from homework to home work. These things will have to be left with a simple “It was what it was.” On a deeper level, explaining why I was sorrowful over the death of a father who had never shown me a single kindness, is not only indescribable, but, from every viewpoint, unimaginable had I not experienced it. So at these points I will leave you simply with the facts, and I will hope that they are somehow intelligible to you.
The trajectory of my existence wound past events and situations that some of you may find difficult to believe. For this I have no recommendation other than to say that, in my experience, every life is unbelievable if fully revealed and viewed by someone else. We are all island inhabitants, and we have no neighbors. What lies beyond the boundary of our own skin, as I have experienced the world, is an endless mystery. For me the exquisite beauty of living lies within that mystery.
– John McAfee
JOHN MCAFEE, PROTAGONIST
“The story of every great protagonist is a story of vulnerability and heroics,” according to Rebecca Costa, in an email she wrote to me on Nov. 5, 2015.
Costa is an American sociobiologist and futurist. Her career spans four decades of working with founders, executives and leading venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.
“There is danger of painting him (McAfee) as a self-serving, bipolar, self-destructive, personality on the one hand and an eccentric engineer who got lucky one time on the other — but I have full confidence in you that you will avoid those pitfalls and tell the more complicated story — the one which our otherwise linear brains have resisted to date,” Costa wrote to me.
She wrote the Foreword to John McAfee’s true life story.
I met John when we both signed on to save the oldest start-up in Silicon Valley. What bound us was the arrogance to think we could. We were young, smart, single and fearless. But that is where the similarities end.
John’s genius was obvious from our first meeting. So was the smell of alcohol and dilated pupils from regular cocaine use. Yet, even half in the bag, he ran circles around the rest of the Research and Development (R&D) team. And this was a big problem.
As head of R&D, half his job was to solve engineering problems that had stumped Omex for over a decade. We were working on the frontier of optical storage technology — tinkering with lasers, substances like Tellurium, and sophisticated mechanical devices and software that predated robotics. John was determined to make all of it work. I was determined to pave the way for rapid market adoption.
But the other half of John’s job was to manage the company’s development teams — a responsibility requiring a largely different skill set. While I drew upon the training I received from General Electric Company — which included putting on a suit every morning, arriving before eight, holding staff meetings, overseeing budgets and timelines, and following corporate procedures to the letter — every day, from my office window, I watched John arrive before noon on his motorcycle in a black leather jacket and walk into the building with not so much as a briefcase or notebook. It was all in his head.
Assign any group of scientists a charismatic leader like John and what you end up with is a cult. The engineers and programmers soon began worshipping John the way hipsters idolize James Dean. And who could blame them? He partied hard, was surrounded by beautiful women, worked into the early hours of the morning — often sleeping on the floor of his office. He spent his money frivolously, ignored executive directives when he felt they were wrong, he made fast decisions, blew off failure, schedules and budgets, walked out of meetings he found boring, and took huge scientific risks without conferring with a single person. And just about the time you thought he was reckless, he would help himself to a piano in the corner of a room and play a flawless rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 19 in E Minor. Or describe how he solved a technical problem any reasonable mind would have walked away from.
John McAfee worked the way he lived — pushing everything, and everyone, to the limit.
And for a while that worked.
Just about the time I began thinking about leaving Omex to start my own company — John was also contemplating his next move. Though we never discussed this, it was another way our lives paralleled each other. As investors reached the end of their patience and funding began drying up at Omex, John and I left the company, each making a short detour to other start-ups before striking out on our own.
During this period I lost touch with John. But Silicon Valley was a small fraternity in those days. I heard rumors that he, along with a small band of devoted followers, were cooking up something out of his home in Santa Clara. No one had any details except to say that it was “weird science” — the kind John was known for.
By 1987, McAfee Associates was on everyone’s radar and John’s meteoric success in antiviral software became the stuff of legends. No one who had previously worked by his side was surprised. But anyone who had tried to manage or direct his endeavors shook their heads in disbelief. Impossible!
I had my hands full with my own venture, so I watched John’s rise from afar. And the higher he climbed, the more I feared for him. John was a poor judge of human nature — causing him to regularly surround himself with posers, crooks, sycophants and users. And typical of John, he was too interested in making his next invention work. It was this intense focus which blinded him to the agenda of others. A common trait among geniuses.
In 2010, when Intel announced it had acquired McAfee Associates, I exhaled. The deal was valued at seven and a half billion dollars and John McAfee would retire to the paradise island of Belize, build a state-of-the-art laboratory in his home, indulge every scientific curiosity he ever had, and in between pursuits, sit at his grand piano facing an endless stretch of white sand and blue water and play Chopin . . .
No Hollywood scriptwriter could have penned a better ending.
The first news broke that antivirus pioneer, John McAfee, was a “person of interest” in the murder of his neighbor, Gregory Viant Faull.
I had no reason to believe John would handle the police any differently than he handled tyrannists who once ran the companies he worked for. And sadly, I was right. John would simply relay the necessary facts to the authorities and expect that to be that. But the police had other “facts.” Mainly motive. An ongoing feud between his neighbor over John’s barking dogs ended when the dogs were discovered poisoned. Then shortly afterwards, the neighbor was found dead. Following a brief investigation, the police could find no one else with motive to kill Faull.
But in John’s world motive was not a “fact” — not like gravity, or the speed of light, or the effect heat has on Tellurium. As the police investigation mounted, John was asked to return for multiple interrogations where he recited the same facts and same alibi over and over again (he was at home with his girlfriend and saw and heard nothing). He quickly deduced where this was headed. So John secretly launched his own investigation, which began leading back to the Belizian authorities themselves.
As the story grew and foreign reporters began arriving on the tiny island, the police felt pressure to make an arrest. Hearing this was inevitable — and realizing the likelihood of manufactured evidence, false witnesses, etc. — John made his move.
The rest has been well documented by the media, though I find none of it unusual given the protagonist behind the story. The wild YouTube videos, the disguises and narrow escapes, the questionable heart attack which landed John back on U.S. soil, the government contracts placed on his life, the underground lab he secretly established in Tennessee — all of these behaviors must be separated from John’s raw talent. As the world grows more political, and our respect for unmanageable ingenuity diminishes, so does our ability to put into proper context an iconoclast like John McAfee. The temptation to treat him as a carnival sideshow is great. So is the desire to elevate his story to legend. But that says much more about us than John. Because he would not be John McAfee if he cared what we thought.
– Rebecca Costa
On Nov. 5, 2015, John McAfee drove from his home at the time in Lexington, Tenn. to meet me at the now-defunct Round House incubator in Opelika, Ala.
McAfee and I spent nearly ten hours there, face-to-face, just the two of us.
By default, I didn’t believe a word that McAfee said. That wasn’t as much how I felt as it was my approach to writing the book. For months after our meeeting, I spoke to a dizzying array of characters in McAfee’s life — ranging from his daughter to co-workers early in his career to people he didn’t want me contacting.
What I captured, from McAfee’s birth up through his U.S. presidential run, as a Libertarian candidate in 2016, is as close to the truth as possible. To get there, I spoke to McAfee (by phone) dozens of times, which included a shouting match over the truth, and received hundreds of emails from him containing stories, photos, and contact names.
I never got around to writing “McAfee Unplugged,” the book. You can learn why in this recent radio interview I gave to The World, public radio’s longest-running daily global news program, and in this TV interview I gave to FOX’s News Now. But, with McAfee’s passing, I will be memorializing his life by sharing parts of his true life story in a series of articles, podcast and radio interviews, and media appearances.
I’m the founder of Cybersecurity Ventures, a market research firm, and Editor-in-Chief at Cybercrime Magazine, a multi-media production firm, in Northport, N.Y. From here on Long Island, starting Jul. 15, 2021, we’ll be airing a “McAfee Unplugged” series of interviews on Cybercrime Radio, our new 7x24x365 internet radio station. The interviews, with guests from McAfee’s life, will cover much of the material from the book that I was planning to write.
John McAfee should be humanized, not demonized. That will be no easy feat considering the life he led. I’ll do my best.
– Steve Morgan is founder and Editor-in-Chief at Cybersecurity Ventures.