Antivirus pioneer found dead in Spanish prison – NBC Bay Area



John McAfee, the wacky security software pioneer who tried to live as a hedonistic alien while fleeing numerous legal issues, was found dead in his prison cell near Barcelona on Wednesday.

His death came just hours after a Spanish court announced it had approved his extradition to the United States to face tax burdens carrying decades in prison, authorities said.

McAfee, who was among others a cryptocurrency promoter, fiscal opponent, presidential candidate, and fugitive who publicly embraced drugs, guns and sex, had a history of legal issues ranging from Tennessee to Central America via the Caribbean. In 2012, he was wanted for questioning in connection with the murder of his neighbor in Belize, but was never charged with a felony.

McAfee’s body was discovered at Brians 2 Penitentiary in northeastern Spain. Security personnel attempted to resuscitate him, but the prison medical team ultimately certified his death, according to a statement from the Catalan regional government.

“A judicial delegation has arrived to investigate the causes of death,” the statement said. “Everything points to death by suicide. “

McAfee’s death was confirmed after the Spanish National Court ruled in favor of the extradition of McAfee, 75, who had argued in a hearing earlier this month that the charges against him by the Tennessee prosecutors were politically motivated and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. in case of return to the United States

John McAfee, the creator of antivirus software McAfee, was found dead in his Spanish jail cell in apparent suicide on Wednesday, hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the United States. Raj Mathai of NBC Bay Area speaks with reporter Scott Budman about McAfee’s impact in Silicon Valley and his infamous lifestyle.

The court’s decision was made public on Wednesday and was subject to appeal, with any final extradition order also requiring approval from the Spanish cabinet.

McAfee was arrested last October at Barcelona International Airport and has been in jail since then awaiting the outcome of the extradition process. The arrest follows charges the same month in Tennessee for tax evasion after failing to report cryptocurrency promotion income while working as a consultant, speaking and selling the rights to the story of his life for a documentary. Criminal charges carried a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

Nishay Sanan, the Chicago-based lawyer defending him in these cases, said over the phone that McAfee “will always be remembered as a fighter.”

“He tried to love this country but the US government made it impossible for him to exist,” Sanan said. “They tried to erase it, but they failed.”

Born in Gloucestershire, England in 1945 as John David McAfee, he moved to Virginia as a child and grew up with a father who “beat him mercilessly” and killed himself with a gun. McAfee’s hunt when the boy was 15, said Steve Morgan, who spent time with McAfee in Alabama in 2016 to talk about his life for a biography he was commissioned to write. Morgan is also the founder of market research firm Cybersecurity Ventures.

“He told me his father never showed him an ounce of affection,” Morgan said, adding that recounting his father’s death was the only time in their long meeting that McAfee cried.

While McAfee’s technological legacy may have been eclipsed in recent years by his tumultuous life, Morgan said he sees his most lasting impact as a software and security pioneer.

“I think that’s how he is remembered the most in the end. I think many people will remember him as a very troubled soul. Some people will remember him as a criminal. It depends on your age and your exposure to him, ”Morgan said.

McAfee founded his eponymous company in 1987. At the time, Morgan said, he was operating a BBS, a bulletin board system that served as a precursor to the World Wide Web and worked with his brother-in-law. When the first major computer virus, called ‘Brain’, hit in 1986, “John immediately called a programmer he knew and told him there was a great opportunity. We have to do something. You know, we want to write code to fight this virus, ”Morgan said. He called the VirusScan program and the McAfee Associates company.

“He was a true trailblazer, not only as a security technologist, but as one of the first companies to distribute software on the Internet,” Morgan said.

California-based chipmaker Intel, which bought the company from McAfee in 2011 for $ 7.68 billion, has at one time sought to dissociate the brand from its controversial founder by integrating it into its largest cybersecurity division. But the rebranding was short lived, and in 2016 Intel transformed the cybersecurity unit into a new company called McAfee.

In the software industry, McAfee has boasted of having offered the first all-in-one virus scanner, said Vesselin Bontchev, a Bulgarian computer scientist and one of the first antivirus researchers. Prior to that, Bontchev said, researchers were only looking for one virus at a time. But there were only a dozen computer viruses at the time.

“Technologically, as a scanner, it was nothing exceptional. It was just the general idea that was good. Not the implementation, ”said Bontchev, senior researcher at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Bontchev said McAfee was “a special guy” even then. He said he wrote McAfee asking for a part-time job as the Soviet Union broke up so he could work on a post-doctoral thesis in the United States.

In response, McAfee told Bontchev in a letter that the Bulgarian was considered a Soviet agent, so “they can’t work with me,” he said. “It’s a really weird way of saying no to someone asking for a job.”

The two later met in the United States at the annual Virus Bulletin, Bontchev said. “I don’t think he was a typical American. He was just weird.

McAfee has twice run long-haul runs for the U.S. presidency and participated in the Libertarian Party presidential debates in 2016. He has been interested in yoga, ultralight airplanes, and the production of herbal medicine.

In 2012, he was wanted for questioning in connection with the death of Gregory Viant Faull, shot dead in early November 2012 on the island of Belize where the two men lived.

McAfee told AP at the time that he was being persecuted by the Belizean government. Belizean police have denied this, saying they are simply investigating a crime McAfee may have information about. Then-Prime Minister Dean Barrow expressed doubts about McAfee’s mental state, saying, “I don’t want to be mean to this gentleman, but I think he’s extremely paranoid, even bonkers.

A Florida court ordered McAfee in 2019 to pay Faull’s estate $ 25 million in a wrongful death claim. He refused to pay him, writing in a statement posted on Twitter that he had “not responded to any of my 37 lawsuits in the past 11 years.” “- an apparent misspelling of” moot “.

In July of the same year, he was released from detention in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of having traveled on a yacht carrying large caliber weapons, ammunition and military-style equipment.

Wired Magazine reporter Joshua Davis spent six months investigating McAfee’s tumultuous life in 2012, when he lived in Belize and was wanted for questioning in connection with the murder of his neighbor. He described watching McAfee pull out a pistol to illustrate a point.

“Let’s do it one more time,” he says, and he gets to it, ”Davies wrote. “Another round of Russian roulette. As before, he pulls the trigger several times, the barrel turns, the hammer goes down and nothing happens. ‘It’s a real weapon. He has a real bullet in a room, ”he said. And yet, he points out, my assumptions have somehow turned out to be wrong. I’m missing something.

Associated Press editors Aritz Parra in Madrid, Renata Brito in Barcelona, ​​Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, Matt O’Brien in Providence, RI and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed.

If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, please call US National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention at 800-273-8255, text TALK at 741741 or go to for additional resources.


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