“Let me try to make this issue simple for the American public,” he told Ed Schultz of RT, the news channel where he’s a frequent guest. He’d previously promised to do so for the FBI at no cost. Naturally, this all found its way onto Reddit. “This man is batshit crazy. Undeniably brilliant, but batshit crazy,” wrote one user. Others were more critical — a headline in ArsTechnica reads: “John McAfee better prepare to eat a shoe because he doesn’t know how iPhones work.”
We caught up with the high-octane 70-year-old McAfee, who ultimately posed a Boolean riddle to the antagonistic — albeit respectable — “Reddit crowd.”
(Check out our full interview with McAfee.)
You don’t have a fantastic reputation — at least online. Why do you think that is?
I speak through the press, to the press, and to the general public. For example, last night I was on RT, and I gave a vastly oversimplified explanation of how you would hack into the iPhone. I can’t possibly go in and talk about the secure spaces on the A7 chip. I mean, who’s going to understand that crap? Nobody. But you gotta believe me: I understand it. And I do know what I’m doing, else I would not be where I am. This is a fact. Someone who does not understand software cannot start a multibillion dollar company. This is just a fact of life. So, if I look like an idiot, it is because I am speaking to idiots.
And in order to express these truths to minds that don’t have the requisite vocabulary …
Right. How do you possibly explain the complexity of Apple putting everything on the A7 chip, so that there’s simply no way to get access to the secure memory? Apple itself cannot even decrypt it. How do you explain that to a public that does not understand that a computer actually has something inside it? It can’t be done. So, I did the best that I can using metaphors, and using simplistic techniques.
And I know — I know, to the Reddit crowd, I probably look like the stupidest man on the planet. Well, I don’t give a flying fuck.
I’ll be frank with you, because I don’t care what they think … I do, in a way. I’m not dissing Reddit. It’s a bunch of smart people. But that’s not who I’m talking about — I don’t need to educate them: They are already educated. I need to educate those who are uneducated, and I cannot do it using language and concepts and principles that will impress Reddit. I’m not trying to impress Reddit. I don’t have a fucking clue why anybody would want to impress anybody. I’m trying to get a message across in the only language that I can. And when people laugh at me? Well, go ahead: Have fun. Have fun. But I promise you this: You get me on a coding table, against somebody? I will kick your ass.
I believe it. In Plato’s Republic, Plato recommends that the philosopher kings speak, basically, in metaphors to the public. The noble myth, the noble lie …—
Yes! How else can you do it? So, basically, I told a terrible lie on RT. But you know what? A lot of people watched that video. And, certainly, the FBI watched it. And actually, I don’t think the FBI has a clue whether I was exaggerating, or telling a noble lie, or telling the absolute truth. Because I don’t think they understand anything in terms of cybersecurity. I’m serious. Now, they are awesome — they are awesome — at intelligence gathering; that’s their job. But they suck at protecting the public from them.
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Yeah, if you’re on Reddit, tell those guys: Cut me a little bit of slack; that I am not quite as stupid as they think. I mean, I may be pretty damn stupid. But nowhere near what they think. And if anybody wants to test me, please. Bring a laptop, a coding pencil, or ask them how to … Here’s one:
If you have a computer with no memory and only two registers, how do you exchange register A with register B? And all you have are Boolean operators. Now, you ask them that: How many people can do that within one minute? That’s the question I used to ask everybody who came to work for me at McAfee. If you can’t solve that in a minute, you’re an idiot; you shouldn’t be programming. And I guarantee you that 99 percent cannot do it. Alright? Two registers, only Boolean operators, no memory — and you must exchange the contents of those two registers. So you don’t have adds and subtracts — no: only Boolean. ‘AND.’ ‘OR.’ ‘XOR.’ You got it?
I will pass that challenge along.
And tell them, the first time somebody asked me that question, I popped out the answer instantly.Photos via Getty Images