John McAfee teaching users how to uninstall McAfee Antivirus Software
John McAfee remains an enigma despite all we know about him.YouTube

Heard the story about what Mark Zuckerberg got up to in LA at the weekend? Or the bizarre exploits of Larry Ellison at the Oracle Christmas party? And what about the scrapes Kevin Systrom got into when he went on holiday last year?

Well actually, you've probably not heard about any of this. We haven't either. Because these multi-millionaire tech moguls don't want to let us into their lives. Yes, they're happy to publicise their companies' latest product roll-outs, but as individuals they are, understandably, fiercely protective of their privacy. Anyone who wants to find out about their private lives has to rely on stolen snippets of information, gleaned from a paparazzi lens or a particularly ballsy gossip reporter.

John McAfee though, takes a rather different approach. In fact, it seems no aspect of his private life is off-limits. We know he went to live in Belize and fled the country after his neighbour died in mysterious circumstances. We know he faked a heart attack to avoid going back there. We know he lives a nomadic existence, carries 10 guns, and thinks the American government is after him. We know he was almost murdered by an ex-lover, driven mad by lust and jealousy, in Poland last year. We know all this because McAfee talks freely about all these things.

Indeed McAfee appears to revel in the role of iconoclastic renegade, railing against the evils of surveillance and, perhaps a touch ironically, invasion of privacy on the internet. His twitter byline reads 'Eccentric Millionaire and Still Alive', and his pinned tweet carries the hashtags '#gof***yourself #NSA'.

His website is titled whoismcafee.com, an open invitation to anyone who wants to know what's going on in his head. Even though he is still wanted for questioning by the Belize government, he is more than happy to speak to the media; recently he went on Fox News and hacked host Stuart Varney live on air.

John McAfee has been accused of stalking a property manager in Oregon.
McAfee says that he always travels with 10 guns on his person as drug cartels and the Belize government are looking for him

But can all this actually be real? Can a man who was in the vanguard of IT security have gone so rogue that he lives like a fugitive, fearing for his life and packing more heat than a blast furnace in Death Valley?

To find out, we reached out to McAfee via his website and requested an interview. The reply came back within hours, and he was free to speak within a week of my initial enquiry, even though he spent much of that week battling pneumonia.

When we spoke, McAfee gave us 40 minutes of his time, happily talking about anything and everything to do with his cordite-tinged past. When the line broke up, he called us back, within seconds, and picked up exactly where he had left off. The man was clearly eager to put his story across.

'I'm America's target number one'

We asked if he still travels with 10 guns. "I do, yes," replied McAfee, "and so does my wife, and I travel with a contingent of security, not for the government, I don't think the government's going to shoot me, of course not, but from other things." He went on to say that he is also being tailed by the Belize government, as well as a group of drug cartels.

To evade detection or capture, McAfee said he regularly lives "off the grid", i.e. without using the US power grid, or technology which can be accessed by snoopers. He added, "I'm constantly on the move but I have houses that I stay in for up to two weeks at a time."

Explaining why he takes so many precautions, McAfee said, with what seemed like pride: "I have to be target number one here in America, if you think about it. I speak out openly, and I speak out vocally, against the NSA, against the CIA, against every intrusion that the government intends to include in our lives. And even of our companies.

"Google, for example - I am not allowed on Google campus because I speak out vocally against Google for co-operating with the government and for helping the government by creating technology that is intrusive into our lives. So obviously I am suspect number one, and it's almost comical, I can't go anywhere without noticing the crowd of government vehicles that are tailing, everywhere that I go. It's comical.

"America's not the only place I've raised a ruckus, I've lived in Belize for five years, and exposed massive government corruption and had files that implicate the prime minister of Belize in extra-judicial murders, human trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering and everything else, and the entire cabinet for that matter."

John McAfee hospitalised with chest pains
A picture of McAfee being taken to hospital after he faked a heart attack in Guatemala.

'I would be hanged in a cell in Belize'

It is clear that that what happened in Belize, particularly the furore surrounding the death of his neighbour Gregory Faull, still rankles McAfee. He described Belize as "the most dangerous country in the world, with the highest murder rate" and claimed it has "no real government."

When we asked why he faked a heart attack to avoid extradition to Belize from Guatemala, McAfee insisted he had to stay in the latter country because "there is a real law and a real government" there.

"If I showed up in Belize," he continued, "do you know what would happen to me? Read some stories. I would be detained, probably within the first week of my detainment you would find me hanged in my cell because of my depression or I had been beaten to death by one of my cellmates, or I would die of mysterious causes. This happens all the time.

"So I have no intention of going back there. I'm not charged with anything by the way, I've never been charged with anything because there's nothing to charge me with."

On the Sony pictures hack, he told us that he knows who did it, but doesn't want to expose the perpetrator for fear of being a "nark." He added that the hackers were civil libertarians, attempting to undermine the restrictions placed by Sony and similar companies on the music industry.

Although hackers were McAfee's sworn enemies when he was running his eponymous security company, he told us that his view has now changed, and he supports their subversive agenda, particularly the activities of WikiLeaks. "These people [hackers] by and large have good hearts, they want freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to live unobserved and I am solidly, solidly behind that."

Julian Assange (L) at the Ecuador Embassy with a South American official PIC: Reuters
McAfee is a supporter of Wikileaks, fronted by Julian Assange [L]Reuters

The other side

Yet there is clearly another side to John McAfee, beyond the conspiracy theories and fugitive vigilantism.

McAfee tells us that he loves "fighting the good fight" against big brother-style intrusion and corruption in Latin America. Yet he also finds time to run Future Tense, a holding company for a string of startups including private messaging service Chadder, security app DCentral and crowdfunding site QiKfunder.

McAfee can point out, with justification, that these start-ups reflect his core ethos, his suspicion of hackers and his willingness to stand up for the little guy. Yet, at the same time, he is clearly running a sleek, ultra-professional startup nexus: the Future Tense website is clean, clear and sober, and gives no detail of McAfee's personal past.

We ask if it is difficult to run a start-up empire when your life is locked in an endless peripatetic loop. "Absolutely not," replied McAfee. "Look at the technology we're using. I'm doing an interview by phone, halfway round the world right now, on different time zones. And we're not using Skype or any visuals.

"It's extremely easy to run any company from anywhere in this world, using the technology that we have. We have video conferencing, we have texting and e-mails, good lord it's a simple thing. I could be living at the top of a tree in Scandinavia and run a company as easily as in the office of the central headquarters."

When we talked about the changing face of cyber-security McAfee was effusive. His language quickly became far more technical and verbose, a far cry from the earthy, bellicose terms he used in reference to his personal life. He talked of conceptual security paradigms, neuro-linguistic programming, and the growing threat posed by human engineering.

The man is clearly still fully tuned in to the world of IT security, even though he claims to go without power for days at a time, and has a razor-sharp grasp of the commercial landscape.

Alien Isolation
McAfee told Venture Beat he was being hunted by Aliens, which may or may not have looked like this one.Sega

'Can people in this world not tolerate humour?'

Even more interesting was McAfee's attempt to play down an email he sent to VentureBeat, claiming that murderous aliens and Hungarian elves were tailing him. When we raised this email, McAfee ordered: "read that email. I can quote it to you.

"If you read that email and not laugh... can people in this world not tolerate humour? Those people I have no interest in. If someone is so confined that they can't notice humour where it pops up in the most obvious forms then they're no use to me, you, or the world. I'm sorry. So what they think of me I couldn't care less.

"It's the people with a brain that I'm interested in. It's the people who observe, who can actually distinguish and differentiate, those are the people that I'm interested in. Why should I care about the kids that read that specific e-mail and take it serious?"

We asked about the suspicion that McAfee is playing up to a character. "That's fine. The people that think I'm one character, and can't see humour, that's fine. The people that can see it will also see the truth in what I do say."

So, is the gun-toting, snoop-slaying McAfee a real person? Or is it a character created by McAfee to remain relevant and give us all a little titillation?

'When they leave me alone I will worry'

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. It's clear that McAfee's life did hit some real turbulence in Belize. The extradition orders are out there in the public domain, and we've seen the pictures; he certainly didn't fake faking a heart attack.

But perhaps McAfee has used this controversy to build a new identity for himself, and ensure that he (and his businesses) remain in the public eye, 18 years after he severed all ties with McAfee Associates.

Shortly after the interview McAfee e-mailed us twice, to ask when the interview would go live – and, intriguingly, how we thought it had gone. Perhaps he was worried that he hadn't given us enough, hadn't been the character we expected him to be.

During the interview, we put it to McAfee that the most dangerous time for him will be when the US secret services stop trailing him. "That's correct" he replied. "That's when I will seriously worry, absolutely. If I got the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Secret service tailing me, then of course the cartels are going to be less likely to try to put a bullet in my head."

Yet perhaps this worry goes further. Perhaps deep down John McAfee is worried that, one day, the world will stop following him.