I didn’t want to ask him about the murder. At least not yet. Maybe later. Let’s see how it goes.
I was talking to John McAfee. You, at least know his last name because it’s annoying to everyone on the planet who owns a computer.
I looked it up. I don’t know how they get this number. If I were a scientist I would burn up the last shred of my integrity to give you what looks like an exact number. But here it is: 2,405,518,376 own a computer in the world. That’s how many people are annoyed daily by John McAfee.
Because software he created pops up and says, “Your computer has a virus. Do you want to install us to get rid of the virus.”
McAfee Associates was bought by Intel for $7.8 billion. Even John McAfee says he no longer uses this annoying software. It’s not even the best.
I forgot to ask him what the best was. Who cares.
But he had many things to say. The first was about Ashley Madison.
Claudia asked me yesterday. “Is Ashley Madison a real person?” I said I didn’t think so. That’s how much we follow the very important Ashley Madison news.
Ashley Madison is a website that husbands and wives, who swore an oath to the government that they would share medical insurance forever, use to find other husbands and wives to meet and have sex with.
34 million people have signed up for the website. A “hacker group” has gone in and stolen all of the names and said they would release the names unless Ashley Madison shuts down. A strange request. Why not ask for a billion dollars first?
Anyway, they released all the names.
John had a few things to say about this. Because at first I had said, “who cares about privacy?”
“The three people so far who have committed suicide because of the Ashley Madison data breach.”
I can’t argue with that.
“Here’s what I can prove,” he said. “It wasn’t an outside group. It was someone on the inside. A woman working in the IT department. And whoever her boss is, is certainly protecting her so he won’t lose his or her job.”
He went on to explain to me the three parts of that. Why it was an inside job (data was pulled from every database in the company and not just one), why it was the IT department (who else has access?) and why it was a woman (the way the manifesto was worded.).
I still haven’t asked him about the murder. The one in a tiny South American country. The one he escaped from with nothing left in the bank after having at one point over $100,000,000 to his name.
He had more things to say.
“We need to return to a simpler time. Everyone should throw out their cell phone?”
I don’t even really use my cell phone. I never talk on it. But people send me texts on it with questions. Go ahead. 203-512-2161.
Then he said, “I have to go to court in a few hours and my lawyer just got here. Can I call you back?”
We got off the phone. I gave it 50-50 whether or not he would call me back.
In the meantime, I followed a suggestion John made.
I asked Claudia if she had a simple app on her phone that turned her phone into a flashlight just in case she was ever stuck in the jungle with it and a flashlight would come in handy.
She said, “yes”.
I asked her to find out what permissions she allowed the flashlight app to have on her phone.
“Turn on and off the camera and make videos. Access all key data. Access all Internet data. Access all data in the ‘SD Card’ ” which we didn’t know what that was.
John called back. “Sorry about that.”
“John, why would a flashlight app need to be able to turn on and off our video camera at will.”
“That’s what I mean,” he said. “Where was that app made.” Pakistan.
“What if you were having sex. Now they can turn on the video without you knowing and if they have a good angle they can upload it to YouTube.”
“Why would they want to have access to all ‘Internet data’. What does that even mean?”
“It means bank passwords. I bet you didn’t think an app that turns your phone into a flashlight would need the password to all the money you have in the world.”
He said, “If you have more than 11 apps on your phone I can almost guarantee you someone or something is watching you right now.”
Still not time to ask about murder. Maybe he would get insulted.
He had started his first company while he was still at Lockheed. He stayed at Lockheed for two years before he left full time for his company. By then his company on the side was doing $30 million in revenues.
It reminded me of my first company. I stayed at my full time job for 18 months before I left it.
Too many people now think, “I have an idea. Where is my funding so I can quit my job?”
This is not how life works. Desserts come at the end of a long and fulfilling meal. Not in the beginning. By the time you have dessert your stomach is already sweating all of its digestive juices, asking itself, “what did this guy do to himself!?”
“Why did Lockheed let you stay?”
“I was good at my job. I was working on a ‘Black’ project that required Top Secret security clearance.”
He said, “I figured there was no way they were going to give me clearance.”
“They asked me all sorts of questions: Have you had sex with sheep? Have you taken any drugs? Yes. All of them.
Have you ever paid for sex. Yes. About 1000 times.”
Have you had golden and brown showers. Yes.”
And on and on. I figured there was no chance I’d keep the job.”
The next day they gave me security clearance. I guess they figured I had nothing to hide so nobody could blackmail me.”
“Why did you move to Belize after you quit McAfee.”
It was like I asked a 5 year old why he likes cotton candy.
“Because it’s an amazingly beautiful country,” he said. “Beaches, barrier reefs, untouched Mayan ruins, thousands of unstudied plants.”
I had never been there. To be honest. I’m only guessing it’s in South America. Maybe it’s more North than that. I could look it up but trying to limit my Google searches. I already did one so far on this post. That’s my maximum.
He described why it was beautiful. But there’s always a good reason and a real reason. And then an even darker real reason.
He gave me the real reason also. He had a theory about bacteria.
“I call it quorum sensing.”
Bacteria causes infections. But why does some bacteria erupt into a painful infection and other bacteria stay dormant. “It’s almost as if they have some intelligence.”
So he wanted to research this. “I built a half million dollar laboratory, hired a research assistant from Harvard, and we studied many of the plants in Belize that nobody has ever studied in order to find out if they could be natural anti-biotics that could stop bacteria from forming a quorum that could turn into infections.”
“Did it work?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“42 members of the Belize Gang Resistance Unit raided my house, burnt down the lab, shot my dog in front of my eyes, and kept me handcuffed for 14 hours.”
Belize is very much a pirate country, he told me. Narcotics pass through there. Crime lives there. The government is corrupt.
“I was asked for a two million dollar donation from the Prime Minister and I told him to F off,” he said.
Then the raid happened.
Then the Prime Minister called again. He told the Prime Minister to F off again.
Then he was named as a ‘person of interest’ in the murder of his next door neighbor.
“I wasn’t accused. They just wanted to talk to me. But I knew what that meant,” he said.
“It meant they would tie me upside down and put a football helmet on me and they would bash the helmet with baseball bats. Then your brain turns to mush but it doesn’t leave a mark.”
“So I escaped.”
I remember, I told him. You were keeping an online diary while you were on the run.
That’s right, he said. I did nothing wrong. I was just trying to escape.
“At heart,” he said, “the Belize policemen are lazy. So they simply stopped working whenever it rained. I would only go on the move when it was raining.
“By the time I got to Guatemala, I had nothing left in the bank. All of my money was gone. I had mistakenly put the money in banks in Belize. I had only $75,000 left to my name.
Then Guatemala wanted to send me right back to Belize, which is against the law. They were supposed to send me back to my country of origin, which is the US.”
So I faked a heart attack and they had to hospitalize me. I used my final $75,000 to hire the attorney general of Guatemala to be my lawyer. He got me back to the United States.”
Now he lives in Tennessee. He started a new company, Future Tense, which helps people deal with privacy attempts on their cell phone and in their corporation.
“For someone so transparent, you are also the other extreme,” I said, “focused so much on the importance of protecting privacy.”
“We all have things we keep to ourselves,” he said. “When you meet someone in the supermarket you say ‘Hi’, you don’t reveal all of your secrets. But there are many people out there who want to take your privacy away from you.
If you read Orwell’s 1984 or look back at the rise of Hitler’s Germany, it was only the gradual decrease in privacy that let more and more to the most totalitarian dictatorships.”
That’s our challenge now. We’re losing our privacy. It’s going to happen so I’m trying to stop it.”
I asked, “You have so many stories. A common theme is privacy but it also seems like a common theme is reinvention. What’s the secret to reinventing yourself.”
“When I arrived in Guatemala I had no money. I don’t worry about the future or the past,” he said.
“Have you ever seen tomorrow,” he said. “Because when tomorrow arrives it’s no longer tomorrow. It’s today.
All we have is today. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I can be dead tomorrow. So I don’t think about it. Ever.” He repeated. “Ever.”
“I just keep pushing forward with my ideas and the things that are important to me. The things that I love. I don’t worry about anything else.”
“Why do you have to go to court in a few hours?”
“It’s about something I did a few weeks ago.” [He got arrested driving drunk and with a handgun]. “I could very easily get 15 years in jail.”
“Are you worried about that?”
“Do I seem like I’m worried about it?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m sitting here in my house talking to you.”
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