John McAfee Murder Case: Deception Detection

    As someone who remembers John McAfee as the guy who pretty much created the antivirus software industry when he founded McAfee Associates in 1987, I find it kind of weird that now, most people who know who he is know him as the eccentric guy who hightailed it out of Belize in December after his neighbor, Gregory Faull, was found shot in the back of the head. Even weirder, in a way, is that now, wearing my other hat as a partner in the deception-detection company QVerity, I’m part of a team that has performed an analysis that has concluded that McAfee, indeed, very likely had something to do with the death of Faull.

    McAfee, who’s now living in Portland, Ore., recently emerged from the shadows to try to spark media interest in his pursuit of various movie and book deals. There was a Q&A on Slashdot earlier this month, followed by a “John McAfee breaks long silence” piece in USA Today and, most recently, a webcam interview of McAfee conducted by Alicia Menendez of The Huffington Post. It was that webcam interview that caught QVerity’s attention.

    As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m a partner in QVerity, a company founded by former CIA officers that specializes in deception detection. We employ a methodology developed within the CIA by Phil Houston, one of our founding partners, and outlined in our book, “Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception.” That methodology is based on the analysis of verbal and non-verbal deceptive behaviors that are exhibited in response to a question, so the webcam interview on The Huffington Post provided an excellent framework for our behavioral analysis of McAfee.

    That analysis has been posted and is available to be read in its entirety. But the bottom line is encapsulated in this excerpt:

    Collectively, his deceptive behaviors indicate the high likelihood that McAfee was involved in Faull’s death, and that he has little or no information to offer to the contrary. The high volume of attack behaviors we observed reflects a desperation and a last-resort mentality, which are indicative of McAfee’s fear that he is out of options, that  the authorities may be closing in on him, and that he will be apprehended—possibly sooner rather than later.

    To give you an idea of how we apply the methodology, here is an excerpt that analyzes McAfee’s response to Menendez’s direct question as to whether he killed Gregory Faull:

    In response, McAfee smiled. Smiling or laughing in response to a serious question is a deceptive non-verbal behavior that falls into the category of what we call an inappropriate level of concern. It is indicative of a dismissive attitude towards the questioner, an effort to get the questioner to back off or become less aggressive by conveying to her and to the public that her pursuit of this issue is overzealous and unwarranted. McAfee then opened his response with this assertion:

    No, I  have never killed anyone. [hand to chin] It’s not my style. People who know me [know] I’m probably the most easygoing person in the world.

    These statements contained another cluster of deceptive behaviors:

    • “I have never killed anyone” is an example of what we call a non-specific denial. That non-specificity, rather than stating “I didn’t kill Greg Faull,” makes it easier psychologically for a deceptive person to convey. McAfee’s deceptive behavior indicates the likelihood that he is involved in the death of his neighbor. That being the case, telling the direct lie is difficult, so he instead waters down his denial—again, because it is a psychologically easier path to take.
    • Hand-to-face activity.
    • “People who know me [know] I’m probably the most easygoing person in the world” is an example of a deceptive verbal behavior we call a convincing statement. A convincing statement is one that is a made in an attempt to influence or manipulate perception rather than convey the information the questioner is seeking.

    In addition, we have an unintended message in the form of the statement, “It’s not my style.” Deceptive people often betray themselves without realizing it by conveying unintended messages that can be identified by focusing on the literalness of what is being said. Here, by stating that killing people is “not my style,” the unintended message appears to be, “It’s not a matter of murder being unacceptable, it’s just that it’s not the way I normally take care of business.”

    There’s a lot more in the full analysis, but that gives you the idea. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out—not in the movie, but in real life.

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