SAN JOSE -- Anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee, who buried himself in the sand to hide from police in Belize, faked a heart attack in a Guatemalan detention center and admits playing the "crazy card," says he's now ready for his next adventure: a return to Silicon Valley.
At age 67, McAfee is promising to launch a new cybersecurity company that will make the Internet safer for everyone.
"My new technology is going to provide a new type of Internet, a decentralized, floating and moving Internet that is impossible to hack, impossible to penetrate and vastly superior in terms of its facility and neutrality. It solves all of our security concerns," McAfee said in an interview with this newspaper.
Despite his colorful lifestyle and his even more colorful recent history, McAfee remains one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley history. In 1989 he founded the anti-virus software company in Santa Clara that still bears his name and once was worth an estimated $100 million. In 1994 McAfee ended his relationship with the company and moved to Colorado.
In a nearly one-hour interview, McAfee was typically tantalizing and elusive, declining to answer other questions about his proposed company, saying more details will come Saturday when he speaks at the inaugural C2SV music festival and tech conference at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.
But he did mention the two competing movies about his life that are due out within the next two years, along with a biographical book, a 90-minute TV documentary and a series of graphic comic books about his five years in Belize.
"In the crazy topsy-turvy world of America, the blend of good looks, money and technology could be formed into a brew that could be a Hollywood success story," said Roger L. Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.
Police in Belize still want to talk to McAfee, who remains wanted as a "person of interest" in the shooting death of his neighbor, police spokesman Rafael Martinez told this newspaper Tuesday.
No one has been arrested in connection with the November killing of Gregory Viant Faull, a 52-year-old fellow expatriate who had well-publicized run-ins with McAfee in Belize before he was discovered two doors down in his home with a single gunshot to the head.
Rather than face questions, McAfee took off into the jungle with one of his girlfriends, 20-year-old Sam Vanegas. With authorities in pursuit, McAfee hid by burying himself in the sand with a cardboard box over his head so he could breathe, fled into neighboring Guatemala where he was detained, then played the "crazy card" by faking a heart attack to buy time for a deportation hearing.
All the time he was on the run or in custody, he wrote cryptic blog posts, misdirecting authorities and fueling a worldwide media frenzy.
"Of course I arranged all of that," McAfee said. "How are they (Belizean authorities) going to whack me if every newspaper in the world is looking? You have to be willing to sacrifice a bit of your public persona to get the media to feed on you. I'm willing to do that. As long as you're honest to the press, as long as your stories are consistent and you can feel good when you go to bed, it doesn't matter what they say as long as they spell your name right."
McAfee now lives in Portland, Ore., but says he will commute to Silicon Valley if his new company takes off.
Asked about his personal wealth, McAfee said he turned control of his Belizean properties and businesses -- once valued at more than $20 million -- over to friends in Belize and "I never took a penny out."
"I live and eat well," McAfee said. "I buy cars and boats just like I always did. Maybe I have less than I had 15 years ago. Maybe I have less now than I'll have five years hence. In my position, you never know how much you're worth because it changes constantly. It doesn't interest me."
McAfee continues to live a self-described "manic lifestyle" that includes regular visits to the Caribbean and the Bahamas to visit "the girls" -- Vanegas and 17-year-old Amy Emshwiller, whom McAfee frequently has accused of stabbing him and shooting at his head, which left him deaf in one ear.
McAfee's lifestyle -- his taste for young women, history of drug use before turning sober, he says, and his run from the law in Belize -- may limit corporate interest in whatever his new security company produces, according to some industry analysts.
But his reputation as a good-looking, charismatic, wealthy innovator with many of the same online security concerns as the average American also could make him a perfect frontman for an Internet security company aimed at the consumer market, analysts said.
"Security is a very conservative field, one that you don't talk about what you're doing or your customers," said Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. "For corporate security, I can't picture a firm doing business with him. And his skill with security is about 25 years out of date. An awful lot has changed since he ran McAfee in the 1990s. But on the consumer level, here his visibility may draw people to the brand and products. He's a rebel. He's fighting against The Man. For the folks that are probably most concerned about the government getting involved with their stuff, he could be their spokesperson. His celebrity could work for him."
While McAfee plans to launch his new company in or around Silicon Valley, he clearly prefers the relative quiet of Portland over Silicon Valley.
"The motto of the city is 'Keep Portland weird,' " McAfee said. "Well that fits right in with me. I'm not going to be living down here. It has changed a lot since last I worked here (26 years ago). It has grown. The traffic is nightmarish. It's just too busy for me."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.