A while ago you had a chance to ask John McAfee about his past, politics, and what he has planned for the future. As usual, John answered with extreme frankness, with some interesting advice for anyone stuck at a checkpoint in the third world. Below you can read all his answers to your questions.Travel tips?
You've had the chance to travel (sometimes in extraordinary circumstances!) through some very interesting places, and I'm wondering if you have as a result any concrete advice or suggestions to give about intelligent traveling.
- Do you have anything you'd consider unusual or otherwise notably every-day carry gear?
- How do you keep documents safe / backed up / safe from prying eyes and fingers?
- Are there places that, however adventurous you are, you avoid because you consider them too dangerous?
McAfee: As all of my close friends know, I have not always been a drug free citizen. Prior to 1983 I was a synthesis of corporate manager and drug dealer. The drug dealer profession took priority, and for a period of time that was my only occupation. Well .. taking the drugs that I sold also became a principal occupation. I gave up taking drugs and dealing drugs in 1983.
During my drug dealing days I became adept at those talents required of a successful drug dealer: clandestine travel through the Third World countries that produce and transport the goods; dealing with corrupt officials; dealing with drug lords and drug traffickers; successfully passing checkpoints; bribery, and in emergencies, the methods of escape.
In order to make the most of your travels, you need to first understand that, throughout much of the Third World, there is a smoothly functioning “system” in place that has evolved over centuries. From the First World perspective it is a “corrupt” system, but that’s not a helpful word if you want to acquire the most effective attitude for dancing with it. I prefer “negotiable”. It focuses the mind on the true task at hand when dealing with officialdom and removes any unpleasant subconscious connotations. So if you can view the following tools and tips as negotiation guidelines it will help bring the necessary smile to your face when the situation requires one.
The most powerful tool a traveler can possess is a Press card. It will allow you to completely bypass the “documentation” process if you have limited time or limited funds and don’t want to deal with it. I have dozens stashed in all my vehicles, in my wallet, in my pockets, in my boats.
I am paranoid about being caught without one when I need one. They have magical properties if the correct incantations are spoken while producing them. A sample incantation at a police checkpoint (this will work in any Third World country):
“Hi, I’m really glad to see you.” (produce the press card at this point). I’m doing a story on Police corruption in (fill in country name) and I would love to get a statement from an honest police officer for the story. It’s for a newspaper in the U.S. Would you be willing to go on record for the piece?” You can add or subtract magic words according to the situation. Don’t worry about having to actually interview the officer. No sane police person would talk to a reporter about perceived corruption while at the task of being perceived to be corrupt. He will politely decline and quickly wave you through. If you do find the rare idiot officer who wants to talk, ask a few pointed questions about his superiors and it will quickly awaken his sensibilities. He will send you on your way.
The press card is powerful, but has risks and limitations. Do not attempt this magic, for example, at a Federale checkpoint in Mexico on a desolate road late at night. You will merely create additional, and unpleasant work for the person assigned to dig the hole where they intend to place you.
Documentation is the polite word for “cash”.
The real art of producing documentation is the subtle play of how much to produce. In some countries, a policeman makes less than a dollar an hour. At a checkpoint, a policeman will usually share his proceeds with the other officers lounging by the side of the road and with the police Chief. The Chief will get about 25% in countries like Colombia and Panama, so if there are three officers total, then a ten-dollar contribution will end up with about $2.50 in each person’s pocket – a good take for someone making about a dollar an hour in legitimate salary.
Nothing irks locals more than someone who produces documentation in excess of what is expected. It ruins the system for the rest of the population. The Police begin to expect more from everyone, and the populace is then burdened beyond any sense of reasonableness. I might mention that checkpoints for any given location in most countries are set up no more than once a week, and frequent travelers reach accommodations with the authorities so that they are not unnecessarily burdened to the point that they are single-handedly putting the policeman’s children through school. The police are, by and large, honest people with hearts, and few truly abuse the system.
So to give more than is reasonable is a crime against humanity. The following are some hard and fast formulas that I have learned from trial and error over the years:
Documentation is inversely proportional to traffic density – the higher the traffic, the less you pay, the lower the traffic the more you pay. This is simple economics: The police must make their personal quota from whatever traffic there is.
If you stop at a checkpoint and there are four or five cars in line, you can be assured that less than a couple of dollars will be expected from a Gringo. Smart folks carry a half dozen cold cokes and beers in a cooler in the backseat and simply reach around, grab one or the other and hand it out the window with a smile. In the late afternoon on a hot day, this will be received with far more appreciation than a few small coins. If you hand a cold drink to all of the officers, you could easily talk them into giving you a protective escort to the next town.
In low traffic areas, in addition to having to pay more, you will also entail more risk. It’s never good to travel lonely roads in Central America, unless you are very experienced or closely wired in to the authorities. However, if you’ve come down to do a dope score or are determined to visit Crucita or her sister in some remote village and have no other choice, then strictly adhere to the following:
Do not get out of the car, even if ordered to do so. Your car is your only avenue of escape. It’s a ton or more of steel capable of doing serious harm to anyone foolish enough to stand in front of it, and once underway is difficult to stop. The checkpoint police in Central America never chase anyone down, in spite of years of watching U.S. Television and action movies. It’s too much work, plus they could have an accident. It’s not worth it for an unknown quantity. And they won’t shoot, unless you’ve run over one of them while driving off. It makes noise and wastes a round that they must account for when they return to the station – creating potential problems with the higher-ups. Not that I recommend running. It’s just that outside of the car you have lost the only advantage you have.
Smile and, if possible, joke. Say something like: “I’d like to stay and chat but I’m in a hurry to meet a girl. Her husband will be back soon.” This will go a long way toward creating a shared communion with the officers and will elicit a shared-experience type of sympathy.
Don’t wait for them to talk. Take the initiative. Have your documentation ready as you pull up and simply present it to the policeman while beginning your patter similar to the above, or whatever patter is comfortable for you. Never hand cash directly. Slip it in inside your insurance papers, or some other paperwork relating to your car or your journey, with about an inch of the banknote discretely sticking out. I use a Cannon Ixus 530 setup manual with the front and back cover removed. It’s small, light, and looks like it could be important paperwork for almost anything.
Remember: 50% of the police who stop you in most Third World countries can’t read. This is a powerful piece of information for the wise.
Once the officer has removed the banknote, which will be immediate, reach out and retrieve your laptop manual (or whatever you choose to use), smile, wave and drive off immediately without asking permission, but slowly, without looking back. Doing the job and leaving quickly without appearing to hurry off is the key here. Don’t give them enough time to assess you.
The above is a fail-safe formula for back roads of Central Americaif adhered to explicitly. Expect to part with at least 20 bucks. If, on approaching the checkpoint, you judge the police body language to be insolent or agitated, change the twenty for a fifty.
If something goes awry and the above, for some reason, has not worked, then pretend stupidity. Ask them to repeat everything they say and act bewildered. If ordered to get out of the car, smile broadly and simply drive off. Again – slowly.
If drugs or other contraband are planted in your vehicle by one of the police while another has your attention (a very common occurrence), understand, above all, that there is a zero probability that you will be arrested, unless you add to the “offense” by pissing someone off or otherwise acting unwisely. The intent is to scare. Under no circumstances deny that it is yours. Say something like “Damn, I thought I left that at home”, or “That’s the second time I’ve been caught this week.” This will show them that you are a good natured player and will probably negotiate. Denying ownership of the contraband will be seen as confrontational – an attitude that brings high risk when dealing with Third World authorities. The “documentation”, however, need not be much. They have chosen an approach to making a living that is universally considered by the locals as “not fair play”, and they should not be unjustly rewarded for it. Sure, they did go to the effort of distracting you, and someone had to go to the trouble to plant the dope, so they deserve something, but $5 is the maximum you need to pay. If they ask for more, then you can safely become indignant. They will shut up. The locals won’t tolerate police that take too much unfair advantage of the system, and your obvious awareness of the correct protocols will alert them to potential trouble if they push things.
If you actually are carrying contraband, of any kind – drugs, guns, Taiwanese sex slaves – whatever, and are caught, then the actions that you take within the first few seconds of discovery will have a profound impact on the rest of your life. The reality is: You have been caught. The officers have options:
1. Arrest you and charge you, where you are likely to confess to other people about exactly what you were carrying and how much – thereby limiting the policemen’s ability to make off with much of the cache.
2. Come to some arrangement with you that is mutually beneficial and that does not include your demise, or create any undue risks to the officers’ jobs or safety.
Option 2 is obviously preferable. To anyone not fond of prisons, that is.
Your first order of business is to assess your situation. If you are in a town or even near one with reasonable traffic driving by, then the chances of your demise, or incurring harm to yourself, are virtually nil if you keep your wits about you. If you are on a lonely country road, and there is only one officer, or even two, your risks could be high, so you will be handicapped in your negotiations.
On your side, you have the option to go to jail and tell your story to lots of people, which generally restricts the officers’ abilities to make money on the encounter - the higher-ups will take it. On their side, they have the guns, and threats. Ignore the threats. You are fully cognizant of the fact that their sincere hope is that some accommodation can be reached that enriches their pockets and allows you to leave the area without compromising them.
So — first things first. Smile. There is no circumstance under which a smile will handicap you when dealing with authorities.
Be friendly in your speech and immediately and fully acknowledge your situation, and theirs. This puts them at ease and sets the framework for negotiation. Be polite but firm. Let them know that they will not be able to walk off with your entire stash, and do this early on. It creates more reasonable expectations in their minds. If your contraband is drugs, offer them a small hit while talking. It re-enforces, subconsciously, the idea that the dope is your possession and that they are partaking due entirely to your good will. If you are transporting sex slaves, then I must say first that I cannot possibly condone your chosen occupation, but -offering each one of the policemen a taste of the goods may well seal the deal without any additional cash thrown in.
It’s important to be firm without any semblance of hostility. If the policemen tell you, for example, that they are going to confiscate all of the goods, then, with an apologetic manner that implies an unfortunate certainty, say “I’m sorry, but that won’t be possible”. Shake your head sadly as if you had divulged: “My mom just died”. And this is the point to present them with an absurdly low offer. If you are carrying 20 keys of cocaine or a half ton of marijuana, then offer them $50. Alternatively, you could offer them a one ounce bag of the weed or a gram or so of the coke. If it’s sex slaves, tell them they can look at the bare breasts of one of the least attractive women (in parts of Southern Mexico, this might actually be sufficient).
They will be taken aback at your offer, but it will place any unreasonable expectations they may have in stark perspective. As a rule of thumb, if you are near a populated place, you will ultimately settle by parting with an amount of cash equal to about 10% of the wholesale value of the goods. On a road with infrequent and unpredictable traffic, maybe 20%. If you are on a desolate road, especially if the body language is not comforting, you may have to bite the bullet, give them the entire wad, plus your car, and ask for a ride to the bus station. Don’t expect the police to accept the drugs or contraband as payment if you are near a populated area. They would obviously be seen transferring the goods to their vehicles. If you are not carrying sufficient cash, then you are unprepared, and shouldn’t be doing shady deals in Central America.
Never display fear or hostility. Smile throughout, and crack what jokes you can.
Knowing the name of the country’s Police Commissioner and Armed Forces Chief, and the Chief of Police for each county or town you will be driving through can be very helpful. Knowing all the mayor’s names will not hurt any either. Name-dropping is a powerful tool in the Third World, especially for gringos, if used appropriately. Telling a cop in America that you are friends with the mayor or the police chief will seldom help you avoid a traffic ticket, and may even increase the charges. In Central America, offending a Police Commissioner will immediately get a policeman fired, with no repercussions to the Commissioner, and, depending on the offense, may even get the officer “erased”. So it gives an officer serious pause when you say: “The drugs belong to Commissioner (insert name). I am delivering them to a friend for him”. If spoken with authority and condescension, they can have a dramatic effect. No policeman in his right mind would try to validate the story. Resident Gringos, for odd reasons, are prized as friends by wealthy and prominent locals, so it would not be out of the question to be close with the Country’s Police Commissioner. If the cop asks any specifics, like, how you know the Commissioner, pull out your cell phone and say: “I have the commissioner’s number, why don’t we call him and you can ask him yourself.” You need to have solid self-assurance, or at least some large cojones, to pull this off, but in a tough situation this can work miracles.
A small amount of research is necessary before using this approach. You need to know, for example, whether the police commissioner is really dealing drugs (almost all are). Every local inhabitant in the country will know this information (there are no secrets in the Third World). The policeman will certainly know.
You don’t have to be doing something illegal in order to use the name-dropping approach. It should work under any circumstances: You have no money; You are in a hurry and cant waste the time to answer questions; you are bored and just want to f*** with someone — whatever.
Generally, the tactic of planting drugs on people is only practiced in heavily trafficked tourist areas. The police in tourist areas are handicapped because tourists generally don’t “pay their due” to the police, or to any other functionary. Tourists consider it "corrupt” to have to pay policeman to do their jobs, or to pay them in order to have the freedom to drive down the street on checkpoint day. The police therefore are forced to resort to unethical means in order to make a living in these places.
Gifts occupy a different strata in the system of negotiation. They are used when some future consideration is required, or after an official favor has been provided. Gifts can be small or large, depending on the circumstances and the wise person will have an ample supply ready for any event. I operated seven small businesses in Central America and socked an ample supply of gifts:
Favors, likewise, are part of the system. They have no negative connotation, and they require offers whose magnitude reflects the magnitude of the favor.
One common “favor” that is considered questionable is to gift an officer in the armed forces to provide armed support for a drug deal, a revenge raid, an armored car heist, or similar function. It’s a very common occurrence but it’s deemed to be morally sketchy by most of the populace. The reason for this, I believe, is the sense of unease created by the image of highly organized, insolent, largely illiterate men with fully automatic weapons catering to the whims of anyone with spare change. The general consensus is that the system of “negotiation” should stop at the gates of the military. The military should uphold the system, not practice it, as my friend and philosopher Paz once said. This is nothing more illogical than policemen as “officers of the peace”. The fact that SWAT teams exist and every policeman carries a gun and is trained in violent tactics, should alert us to the fact that practicing peace is not the means of choice for maintaining peace.
If you take the above advice to heart you should enjoy your adventures heartily.
Book and Movie?
by Anonymous Coward
Is Boston George still working on your biography? Have you thought about making your story into a movie? Who would you like to see play you, besides Charlie Sheen of course.
McAfee: George, as you probably know, is still in prison. Prison is an environment that abhors haste, and projects are drawn out for as long as possible so that the overwhelming amount of time on one’s hands can be efficiently consumed. I would expect the book to be out about the same time that George is out — in a few years, if it were being authored by him alone. There are multiple authors, however, each doing their part and I expect the book to be out shortly.
Warner Brothers has already announced a movie. The screenplay is based on the E-book by Josh Davis. Interesting story here: Josh Davis was approached by Conde Naste media June of 2012 and asked if he would be willing to write a story about me that could be turned into a movie. This was six months prior to the murder of Gregory Faul. Josh said yes and Wired Magazine, owned by Conde Naste, was chosen as the vehicle. Josh called me and asked if he could interview me for a Wired piece and I said “yes”. Had he told me it would be turned into a movie I would have said “no”. No one in their right mind would say “yes”. Movies require a number of elements in order to be successful. If your story does not have these elements, then they must be manufactured or inferred.
Josh came down and spent two weeks in Belize and a couple of days with me. Those couple of days has become “a significant part of a year” according to Davis’s resume today. He passes himself of as the “John McAfee” expert.
Impact Future Media is also doing a movie. I am co-operating fully with them, mostly because the CEO of the company, Francois Garcia, is Argentinian and I am too afraid of him not to co-operate. He is a nice man although not the sort of person you would want to piss off.
As to who should play me, I think we would all agree that Morgan Freeman is the obvious choice.
Google: Doing no harm?
Mr. McAfee, thanks for taking questions! My question: Do you consider Google in its current incarnation to be a "good company"? I ask in the context of revelations about the level of Gmail snooping, Google bus controversy, Google Glass failure, "only criminals want privacy", Larry Page refusing to donate to charity, Google Maps interface changes, etc. You used to be in security, so applying that experience & your recent public issues, do you "trust" Google?
McAfee: Good God what a question. First and foremost: I don’t trust anything or anyone. I’m not remotely cynical, I’m just old and I’ve seen a lot. I trust people to be human, meaning all the weaknesses known to humanity exist in all of us. And everyone has a price. For some people it may not be money. It may be a daughter or a wife, which is why Cartel operatives are so fond of kidnapping family members. If someone sends you your daughter’s ear, then to get the other ear back with daughter attached you might happily betray all of your friends. If not that, then maybe it is your reputation, or your job, or torture, or even your life. Everyone has a price. It’s always something. If the previous two axioms are taken as given, then clearly, you can trust no-one.
Companies are even worse. They have all of the weaknesses that humans possess (they are made up of humans after all) and absolutely none of the virtues. They are a derivative of profit, and profit is amoral.
Is Google good or bad. It’s good, because all of the information in the world is now at my fingertips, thanks to Google. It’s bad because it wants to track me and invade my privacy so that it can increase its profits. It’s good because it has streamlined the world around us and caused unimagined efficiencies. It’s bad because it co-operates with agencies that don’t have our best interests at heart. It’s good because it has created astonishing new industries. It’s bad because it controls the rankings of those industries and uses it’s own beliefs to moderate that ranking. It’s good because it allows me to make my own decisions about events rather than having to rely on the news and other media. It’s bad because the delivery of such information can be, and is, listed in ways that one opinion or the other can be highlighted. Etc. It’s good for Google stockholders. It’s bad for any competitor’s stockholders. It’s good for the realtors who rent or sell Google their needed office space. It’s bad for everyone else because rents go up. I hope I’ve answered your question.
Why didn't you ask Intel to rebrand before?
Seems like if you didn't want to be associated with the software, you could have asked them to remove the name years ago.
McAfee: I did.
Any advice for Peter Norton?
what advice would you give to Pete to get his name off the second worst software on the planet?
McAfee: Yes. Grow a beard.
by Anonymous Coward
Has there been any new developments or investigation into the fire that burned down your compound? Do you still maintain the government was involved? Since there was never charges brought against you in the murder case, would you go back?
McAfee: The fire was never investigated. Investigation as a method of solving crimes is a novel idea that has not yet caught on in Belize, or much of Central America for that matter. Police investigators are engaged primarily in uncovering indiscretions within the general population for which they can demand money for keeping their mouths shut - an intricate and beautiful art that reached its zenith with incarnation of J. Edgar Hoover here in in America.
What does happen, and it seems to work reasonably well, is that when a crime is committed, a random person who everyone believes should belong in jail is arrested. Sometimes more than one. If the person or persons, does not have an airtight alibi, such as being in attendance at some other jail during the time of the crime, or performing at a live concert with hundreds of people watching during the time of the crime, then the person, or persons, is charged and generally goes to jail. Exceptions are relatives and friends of powerful people who are never charged for anything under any circumstances, even if an entire town witnesses them engaging in any illegal act, including murder. Local judges are instructed in how to decide cases by the most powerful person in the town and it all seems to work smoothly and efficiently. In the case of the fire that consumed my property, a woman who was a neighbor of mine was arrested. She is a nice lady who happened to refuse the advances of the local political party representative and was chosen for discipline. I refused to press charges and she was released.
Of course the government was involved. And of course I would never go back.
by Anonymous Coward
Whatever happened to your girlfriend Samantha? Why didn't she leave the country with you after running from authorities?
McAfee: Within a few days of my exit from Guatemala she was happily engaged in the monumental task of seducing every male, and female, in Southern Guatemala. It was an extravagant objective and one which, given the population density of the region, had a limited chance of success, I felt. I ran the numbers by her but she tirelessly kept at this task, with no letup. She entertained me throughout with her stories and outrageously effective pickup lines. While she was thus entertaining herself I hired lawyer after lawyer to get her a visa with no success. Ultimately we mutually agreed to abandon the pursuit, whereupon she moved back to Belize and, with perseverance and courage, began the same process with Orange Walk district as her objective. There is some slight probability that she could succeed. After it was over I tattoo’d her name on my back, along with the name of total stranger who I met in the tattoo shop - and who I have not seen since.
by Anonymous Coward
I saw yesterday in USA Today that you were on the run because a drug cartel had a $600,000+ hit on you. If you got out of the business of doing and dealing drugs in the '80s, why are the drug cartels still interested in you?
McAfee: For yourself, and anyone else who chose not to read the USA Today story (I don’t blame you, I also only read headlines in newspapers), this is the answer:
While I chose to get out of the drug business, the Government of Belize has not so chosen. My problem with the government is not drugs, but the fact that I uncovered rampant corruption of all kinds throughout the Government. The government is closely associated with cartels and has limited pull outside of Belize. So asking the Cartel to help them is a reasonable solution for them.
"Buy Belize" ads
by Ungrounded Lightning
An observation more than a question, but feel free to comment (especially if you have information on the subject). Starting shortly after your Belizian adventure I've noticed a rash of radio advertising, touting Belize as a tax haven and secure retirement site for those with substantial assets, and trying to sell land to them. These adds always strike me as funny. Since their authorities went after you, has Belize suffered a sudden drop in interest as a "safe haven" for the retiring well-off, or perhaps an exodus of others already there?
McAfee: Belize hired a Colombian based tourism crisis management firm, among other things they have been buying mass advertising in print, tv in order to change their image.
Additionally they started an official rumour that I was a good thing for Belize, ever since I came into the news, real state has boomed in the country... we tracked down the original source of that press release and was issued by Remax Belize.
This is all I know.
Device Technology / Licensing
Hey John, I ended up spending a week sailing with friends in Belize last year over summer vacation - lovely place! We actually ended up sailing with a skipper who used to work with you, and he told me you had some wild times together! We didn't spend a lot of time together, but he left a huge impression on me and my sailing buddies. Unfortunately, he very recently passed away, as I'm sure you've heard. Okay, that's a bit besides the point, so on to my question: I was seriously wondering on what kind of technology your device incorporates. Does it use existing technologies like Tor, or is it based on a new protocol. If it's a new thing, is the technology dependent on a number of exit nodes a la Tor, or does it depend on the number of peers using the software in order to obfuscate identifying information. In either case, will you consider releasing the software side of things under an open license?
McAfee: The captain’s name was Freddy Waite. The finest skipper that ever sailed. He could tell jokes and stories all day long and the tougher the sailing conditions the more fun he had. I’ve probably spent a thousand hours at the helm with Freddie, talking or just sitting together in silence. He was my full time captain for four years. It was a sad day for me when he recently died.
As to the technology — at this point, for competitive reasons, we are not discussing it. The rumor that it was a gift to me from aliens, is, however, totally false. However, our first privacy application is out on Google Play as of 3 days ago. It is called DCentral1. With DCentral1, you can see what information installed applications have been granted access to. One touch starts a scan that scores apps based off of their requested uses. It will tell you which apps listen to you by accessing the phone’s microphone, which apps watch you using the built in camera and video capabilities, which apps are reading your e-mails and text messages, which apps are sending messages or emails without alerting you, etc. You will be shocked at the results of a scan, I can guarantee you. You can customize the score value for each permission and receive a score tailored to your preferences. You can determine which applications you want to continue to trust after the scan. Those you distrust will be removed if you so choose.
With DCentral1, our goal is to offer more freedom to users through awareness. Information is currency in the digital age, and it's important to know what information (and to whom) you're giving away. DCentral1 is available for free on Android, and we hope to have it available on iOS in the near future!
Can gov backed spyware last in the wild?
We have seen huge efforts by contractors to sell malware with key logging or tracking to different govs using deep insights into consumer OS over many years. With quality AV efforts from around the world and more realtime networked behaviour analysis who is winning the dissident watching game?
McAfee: As always, the battle tilts first one way then the other. If your question is: “Will there ever be an ultimate winner?”, the answer is no. The same tools are available to each side, just as soon as one side steals the newer tools from the other side, so there is no way for either side to maintain the upper hand. The white hats have the advantage of numbers, support and the fact that they can co-operate openly. The dark hats have the advantage of relative anonymity and the never-ending support of dissatisfied people everywhere.
by Anonymous Coward
Did anyone from the GOP contact you about Obamacare or were they just using your name. Have they talked to you about running for office or has your stance on Snowden turned them off? Would you consider running as a third party candidate?
McAfee: The attorney for the House Ways and Means Committee contacted me and asked if I would help. I said “no”. I would never run for office, neither would I want to be in office, of any kind. I would rather drive a nail through my foot.