THE BAFFLING CASE OF BITCOIN
“Fuck off! Either validate or fuck off right now!” Broad, 45-year-old Australian computer scientist, Craig Wright, stands up and displays the near-universal sign to tell someone to fuck off (the V), backing it up (and clearing up any ambiguity) by shoutin
The modern age’s biggest mystery – who created bitcoin, and how did they build the future of banking without anyone knowing their name?
Until this point, the creator of bitcoin was known only by the pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto, ostensibly a 37-year-old man living in Japan. Perhaps due to that, or perhaps due to his blog posts, which were precise, calm and erudite, Nakamoto was imagined to be a gentle, even shy, individual. It doesn’t seem to be the case. The object of Wright’s ire is Dr Nicolas T Courtois, a French-polish expert in cryptology, code-breaking, virtual currencies and specifically bitcoin. Here as GQ’S expert witness, he’s a big man who speaks in halting English, wears a smart shirt and boasts trousers so blue they could be part of a costume. The other people in the room are economist and Bitcoin Foundation founding director Jon Matonis, the expert witness for the PR agency brokering the interview, and its two representatives, attempting not to look too panicked. We’ve been here for a grand total of eight minutes, and Wright’s already taken issue with Dr Courtois’ suggestion that his evidence isn’t conclusive. “You’ve got this one thing,” says Wright. “If you don’t like it, then fuck off.” There’s an audible groan from the PR side of the room. “No more bullshit. Fuck off!” he shouts a few moments later, his idea of a defence against the suggestion that his evidence could have been compromised or stolen. “It’s absolutely possible,” counters Dr Courtois. “Fuck off. Fuck off.” “I have over 100 papers in cryptography...” “Over. Fuck off.” With that, Wright walks out.
We’d first been approached a month before about the interview. The deal was this: the fabled inventor of bitcoin would unveil himself to be Craig Wright. The BBC and The Economist would do news stories; GQ would do the profile piece. The search for Nakamoto has become the digital age’s hunt for the white whale – imagine if the inventor of Facebook was still unknown and you get the idea. Every so often a publication would dispatch another willing Captain Ahab, and each would return having spotted him, just rarely the same one. Everyone from The New Yorker (which named a student) to Vice (which named the US government) had been on the hunt. The New York Times put an author of a book about bitcoin’s creation ( Digital Gold’s Nathaniel Popper) on the case, who named cryptographer Nick Szabo, and cornered him in a kitchen at a tech gathering, putting it to him that he was both Satoshi (“I’m not Satoshi”) and a college professor (“And I’m not a college professor”). Forbes tracked early bitcoin coder Hal Finney down to his home, only to find him incapacitated – Finney had to spend the best part of a day writing an email using the movement of his eyeball just to deny it (“I must be brief...”). Newsweek got particularly excited last year after thinking it had finally cracked it when it found someone actually called Satoshi Nakamoto and ran it as a cover story. It turned out, however, his name was pretty much the only evidence, and the story was so widely discredited that Newsweek yanked it from its website. Wright’s the latest name in the frame, identified by parallel stories in Wired and Gizmodo last December, after a hacker claimed to have retrieved data from Wright’s computer that proved he was Satoshi and leaked it to them. The documents – including a series of emails, minutes of meetings and legal documents – all clearly pointed to Wright as the creator of bitcoin. The Wired story ran with the bethedging headline: “Bitcoin’s Creator Satoshi Nakamoto Is Probably This Unknown Australian Genius”. Yet only days later they both got cold feet: evidence emerged that some of the material might have been doctored, more still that some may be false; even some of his degrees were called into question. The Australian tax authorities raided his house. Soon, a remarkably strange alternative emerged: either Craig Wright was the mysterious creator of bitcoin – or he was the perpetrator of an incredibly detailed and elaborate hoax, all desperately aimed at making people think he was.
The door swings open again. Wright comes back in the room, sits back down, takes a glug from his water bottle and slams it down on the table like he’s trying to hammer a nail. He’s breathing heavily. Dr Courtois attempts to calm the mood. “I’m not saying your evidence is invalid, but it’s just one thing, I’m saying there are other sorts of evidence that people could ask from you, because it’s just one thing...” It’s not long until Wright’s screaming again, the argument between the two easy to understand but impossible to follow. Sentences like “Bloody regenerate things on a single... show me where” and “There are fucking thousands of transactions on bitcoin every fucking day signed with pissy fucking bloody number generators” and “If I hear one more bullshit comment about how I can do it with unknown nodes, you show me proof or you fuck off out” are common. Occasionally, it looks dangerously close to spilling over into physical violence that’d make for a tricky explanation in the subsequent police report. But the gist is clear: in his expert opinion, Dr Courtois doesn’t feel Wright’s evidence is conclusive. Wright, in turn, is not pleased about this. “The other interviews were easy,” he exclaims. “This is bullshit!” “You can validate,” adds Wright. “Or you can fuck off.” “You have to understand,” interjects Jon Matonis, acting as peacemaker. “It’s taken us a long, long time for Craig to get to this point, you know.” The decidedly indecisive proof session ends. With his interrogators gone, Wright calms, speaking expansively about bitcoin’s creation and the personal cost of it. The wife who left him, the friend’s death that made him quit it in 2011. If this is all a show, he’s a convincing con man. Despite everything, this could be Satoshi Nakamoto. Or perhaps not. Dr Courtois, after re-examining the evidence, writes in an email, “Craig has cheated us. It’s a hoax. I have proof.”
THE SEARCH FOR BITCOIN’S INVENTOR HAS BECOME THE DIGITAL AGE’S HUNT FOR THE WHITE WHALE.
To explain what bitcoin is, it’s perhaps easier to start with what bitcoin isn’t. It is not, strictly speaking, a currency. Whereas the value of a currency rises and falls at the mercy of interest rates, inflation, trade, global downturns, whims of government and, at the most extreme, simply how much of it there is in circulation (print too much, as Zimbabwe found at the turn of the century, and it becomes worthless), bitcoin is designed to be a finite resource, and is therefore classified by the American government as a commodity. New bitcoins are created each day, but the rate at which they’re produced will continue to halve until, by the year 2140, 21 million have been created, at which point there will be no more. In this way, it’s more like gold. It’s not the first ‘virtual’ currency, but it is the first successful one. There have been the likes of digicash, which used ‘cyberbucks’ (launched 1990, bankrupt 1998), beenz, which used a points system (launched 1998, defunct 2001), and e-gold, which used a digital currency redeemable for gold (launched 1996, everyone involved arrested by the American government in 2007). All failed for different reasons, but the crucial one is trust. Digicash and beenz failed because not enough people used them. This is rarely a problem with dollars. E-gold failed because hackers stealing money became widespread, plus it’s actually illegal to create your own currency in most countries, not least the US. This is something Hawaii resident Bernard von Nothaus also found to his cost in 2009, after he was arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiracy against the United States for creating and distributing his distinctly old-school ‘liberty dollars’ – he’d minted his own coins and printed his own notes. As with all currencies, bitcoin is only valuable because people think it is. This is something bitcoin developers call a “collective hallucination”. The idea is that if everyone has the same hallucination, it is, for all intents and purposes, real. We can be reasonably sure a dollar today is still a dollar tomorrow or next year. A bank may be robbed, but no one is going to rob all the banks. The worry with a digital currency is that a single hacker could crack the source code and take the lot. But even here there’s a conundrum – steal it all and it becomes worthless. Imagine stealing all the money in the world and you start to appreciate the irony. On all these fronts, bitcoin has proved remarkably resilient. Launched in 2009, it works using a distributed database known as the ‘blockchain’ – essentially a constantly updated record of every bitcoin transaction, shared across every computer on the bitcoin network. There’s no central hub, and so no office to raid (music and film piracy works in a similar way and is similarly tricky to squish). In a stroke, it solved a key problem of electronic money – the ‘double-spend’ dilemma. With bits and bytes, what’s to stop you copying money several times over, rather than actually moving it? Banks solve this by acting as trusted middlemen who maintain an electronic ledger. Now, everyone holds the ledger and everyone’s computers do the hard work (the reward for leaving your computer on is a chance of winning the newly created bitcoins – the process is called ‘mining’). Put another way: the internet is an exchange of information, some of it true, some of it not. Satoshi’s code harnessed it by ensuring an exchange of facts. The central code has also shown itself to be uncrackable. This is where Satoshi’s reputation was born. Dan Kaminsky, an internet security expert who is notorious for once discovering a flaw in the internet that would have allowed a skilled hacker to shut it down, famously tried to crack bitcoin, but failed. He came to a simple conclusion: either Satoshi was actually a team of people or he was a genius. That was 2011. Today, it remains as bulletproof as ever. The first ever real-world bitcoin transaction took place on May 22, 2010, when Florida programmer Laszlo Hanyecz made an offer on an internet forum: he would pay 10,000 bitcoins for someone to buy him two pizzas from local franchise, Papa John’s. He was taken up on the offer by a man in England who paid with his credit card: two Papa John’s pizzas duly arrived and Hanyecz sent the bitcoins over. At the time, the 10,000 were worth around $25. Today, they would be worth $7.6m. Ever since, it’s been celebrated annually as ‘bitcoin pizza day’, where people raise a slice to the most expensive takeaway in history. For quite some time, bitcoin effectively had no value, but two events were to change that. On June 1, 2011, Gawker published a story about the Silk Road – a dark web marketplace where drugs and firearms were sold. The story mentioned these items were being purchased using bitcoin, a digital currency they called “untraceable”. This was not entirely accurate – the blockchain ledger is entirely transparent. The problem was, it didn’t link back to a person unless they were to convert their bitcoins back into regular currency, at which point, it did. Regardless, the story put bitcoin on the map, and, within days, the value of a single bitcoin soared to $25. Later, the arrest of Silk Road’s founder – Ross Ulbricht, a 32-yearold from Austin, Texas who’d gone under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts – caused it to skyrocket. The FBI seized more than 144,000 bitcoins – worth $30m at the time and nearly $110m today – and subsequently told a US Senate committee hearing in November 2013 it was a “legitimate financial service”. Briefly, the price soared to $1360 for a single bitcoin, before levelling out in the high hundreds. Still, there have been problems. As bitcoins are essentially just data stored on your computer rather than in a bank, they’re remarkably easy to lose. Horror stories abound. Memory sticks worth thousands overwritten, computers worth fortunes junked. James Howells, an IT worker from Great Britain, lost 7500 bitcoins in 2013 when he accidentally threw out an old hard disk. It’s currently somewhere in a Welsh landfill and worth more than $5.7m. Regardless, more than 100,000 companies now accept direct payment in bitcoin. You can book a holiday (Expedia), sign up for dating (Okcupid), buy everything from a computer (Dell) to lingerie (Victoria’s Secret). You can even travel into space (Sir Richard Branson has said his company will accept bitcoin payment for Virgin Galactic). Japan has even declared it a legal currency. It could just be the start. Cameron Winklevoss – one of the twins involved in the disputed foundation of Facebook and the subject of the 2010 film The Social Network – has, along with his twin, invested most of his fortune in bitcoin, the brothers
currently estimated to own one per cent of all bitcoin in circulation. He’s suggested that, eventually, a single bitcoin could rise in value to more than $40,000, putting the cost of that 2010 pizza at slightly less than half a billion dollars (at which point you’d hope Hanyecz got his preferred toppings). Economic pressures such as Donald Trump’s Republican nomination and the Brexit vote – events that weakened the dollar, pound and euro – have seen bitcoin’s value soar again, easily cresting $700 per coin. Bitcoin was created by Nakamoto in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis to be free of such outside influences – and it was proving to be the case. Uber threatens to eliminate cab offices, but bitcoin is threatening to eliminate banks. It has, seemingly, become the most trusted form of money in the world. Craig Wright is a computer scientist, serial entrepreneur (of many failing companies, at least one of which, Hotwire, has gone into administration) and serial collector of various degrees – even if he admits to exaggerating some on his Linkedin profile. “It was all piss taken at myself,” he says, suggesting a curious sense of humour. He apparently has qualifications in subjects ranging from theology to statistics, engineering to law. He is also under investigation by the Australian tax authorities – late last year, they raided his house over tax rebates his companies have claimed, of which Wright says, “We’ve been in negotiation with them for years – it’s not a criminal investigation.” Dr Courtois says Wright could have been Satoshi. “He has the skills, he’s been at the crypto conferences.” But he warns of two things. One: “It’s quite possible it’s a collective creation.” And two: “You’d be a fool to claim you’re Satoshi. Not for a criminal connection, but a criminal responsibility connection. He could be prosecuted.” Dr Courtois’ test is cryptographic. The claim can be verified to be true or false – no shades of grey. The real Satoshi didn’t just create the code of bitcoin. He owns, according to a widely cited internet study by bitcoin security consultant Sergio Demian Lerner, around one million himself. At today’s value, that’s more than $761m. Think of every bitcoin in existence as a Tetris stack – the earliest sit at the bottom. To prove he’s Satoshi, Wright has to spend, and therefore move, one of the earliest bitcoins in existence. Instead, he chooses to ‘sign’ one – essentially showing the note, rather than handing it over for inspection. The evidence that Wright is Satoshi seems to be evenly balanced, if confusing and contradictory. Satoshi’s a native English speaker – his writing remarkably fluent in his many blog posts (tick). He uses terms like “bloody hard” and “flat” rather than “apartment”, suggesting an English, or at least a Commonwealth, origin (tick). He embedded one of the first, unspendable, coins – known as the genesis block – with the Times headline from January 2009 about a second Gordon Brown bailout, suggesting a libertarian nature (Wright is a former subscriber to the Cypherpunks mailing list) and a British press reader (entirely possible). He wrote in a particular code (C++) and used a particular notation that was popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s, likely placing him in his forties (tick). And, finally, he packed up and left it all behind. At 5:22am AEDT on December 13, 2010, seven days after a plea not to use bitcoin to donate to Wikileaks (“the heat it would bring would likely destroy us at this stage”), Satoshi Nakamoto posted his final message and disappeared.
The question remains: why come out now after six years away? “I don’t want to come out,” says Wright. “But people in my organisation keep going, ‘We’ve got to do this.’” With Dr Courtois in the room, Wright says it’s due to his family – “so they don’t get painted with this shit.” This is new. What organisation? There’s a pause. “I have a nice big organisation. We have offices in different locations, including London. No one knows who the fuck we are, and I like that.” There are rumours of a supercomputer in Iceland. “Yes... I don’t want to talk about where it is... it’s not in Australia.” But is it in Iceland? “If I answer that question I get in big trouble,” he says. “People are going to go, ‘Craig, you’re not supposed to talk about those things.’” He looks over at the PRS. “At the end of the day, there is a company, people working for me. There are about 30 people in London. They don’t want to be known. Not because they don’t want to be seen with me, but because... because this is what they do.” He won’t say exactly what that is. Far from coming clean, every reply only opens up further questions – ones he then refuses to answer. He is curt in a half-smiling way that suggests he knows more, but won’t share it. In some ways, he’s almost childlike. He often leans back and straightens his tie, like a bank manager conducting an appraisal. With Dr Courtois out of the room, he bristles at how unfairly he’s been treated. He says he doesn’t need to spend any bitcoins to prove who he is, because simply signing one shows he has access, and so, “It would be like I’ve stolen the Mona Lisa, put it on my wall, took a couple of pictures, then put it back.” It barely needs pointing out that a Polaroid of the Mona Lisa would not confirm one owned it. Early bitcoin developer Gregory Maxwell claims that the documents leaked to Wired had been edited to make it look like he was Satoshi. “Bullshit from Maxwell that we had to get disproven – the codes are fucking out there.” The person behind the leak, he says, is a former employee attempting to extort him. “I have my suspicions, but I don’t have proof, so I can’t say.” Curiously, it’s only when he speaks about his private life, about how much bitcoin’s creation had cost him, that he relaxes and calms. Stroking his tie once more, finally the words begin to flow. This is how bitcoin started – at least, as far as he tells it. He’d been working on bitcoin, on and off, he says, for a decade. Tinkering here and there. He’d initially got into computers through his grandfather, who let him use his terminal in the basement. His father, says Wright, openly disliked him. “We didn’t get on. I haven’t spoken to my father in a long time. He never liked what I did, never liked my life.” He collected degrees for fun, and soon developed a reputation as the go-to guy for a range of computing consultancy roles at start-ups. It was only when he was let go, he says, from his role at accountancy firm BDO
in January 2008, when the financial crisis started to hit, that he fully devoted himself to it. “They gave me this whack of money, enough not to work, not forever, but from then on, I could dedicate my time.” Wright hunkered down at his house in a remote farm in Port Macquarie, surrounded by screens, and set to work. He had help, he says, notably from a friend called Dave Kleiman. As a former army officer and Palm Beach County Sheriff, Kleiman was not your usual computer geek. After suffering a motorcycle accident in 1995, which left him wheelchairbound, he became a computer autodidact. CNN and ABC called on him regularly to dish out advice on security and passwords. He had so many three-letter qualifications after his name that his nickname became Dave Mississippi. “He helped a lot,” says Wright. “He knew who I was.” The leaked documents, if accurate, reflect this. An email sent from Wright to Kleiman on March 12, 2008 brings it up abruptly: “I need your help editing a paper...” By October 2008, the now-famous white paper was published: “Bitcoin: A Peer-toPeer Electronic Cash System”. By January 2009, the free software was released online. He says it consumed him. He didn’t look for a job. Soon, his marriage started failing. “It wasn’t the best way to maintain a marriage,” he says. His wife would ask, ‘Craig, what the fuck are you going to do to pay the rent?’ He would simply reply, ‘We’re fine.’ He wasn’t. The value of bitcoin was still on the floor. He remortgaged his house to keep going. By 2011, Wright says, everything fell apart. His wife decided to leave him (“Some of that was bitcoin’s fault”). Kleiman had fallen in the shower in late 2010, and was subsequently in and out of hospital (“Dave was my best friend. He kept me sane... That was hard”). The burden of being Satoshi, he says, became too great. He left it all behind. The search for Satoshi has been difficult precisely because of his brilliance. He would have to be an expert in many fields – a deep understanding of coding, economics, financial markets and advanced cryptology. Hardly anyone fits the bill. A team – or a genius. “I know people want me to be something else,” he says. “People want me to be an academic. I’m not. I’m an applied scientist and an applied engineer. I take different ideas and stick them together. Edison didn’t invent new theory. And Ben Franklin didn’t invent new theory. Tesla didn’t. Steve Jobs didn’t.” While studying advanced economics for one of his many qualifications, Wright came across the famous essay, ‘I, Pencil’, written in 1958 by Leonard Read. It contains a proposition – the pencil may seem like a simple object, yet “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.” From the wood to the tools to chop the wood, to the tools to make those tools, to the graphite, the rubber and the metal, a single pencil is a cooperation of thousands of experts in dozens of fields, stretching back in time, from across the world. But Wright took this as a challenge. He wanted to make a pencil from scratch. “And I couldn’t cheat. You can’t go out and buy a chisel. You have to build the tools. And you can’t start by building iron tools. To make them you need copper tools. And for copper tools you need stone tools.” He spent years on it, even building his own kiln to make the graphite. In he end, he made five pencils that cost him more than $1200 each. “That’s probably another reason I got divorced.” After a story like that, it’s easy to believe Wright could well be Satoshi. Despite him not moving early bitcoins. Despite the unconvincing answers about his reasons for coming out (what was this company?). Despite the unauthored paper Wright produced to disprove Maxwell’s claims about the origin of the leaked documents (“It doesn’t say ‘By Craig Wright’ on the piece as such,” says Wright’s PR firm, “but as the whole pack is called ‘Craig Wright’ and relates to him, it seems clear it’s his piece”). Despite a source, who asked not to be named, seemingly confirming a company had forced Wright to say he’s Satoshi: “They’re big players, but they want him to come out as Satoshi Nakamoto, basically in order to get more gravitas.” Also, for a man who supposedly has that many coins (“I’m not spending them,” he says. “They’re going nowhere”), he’s weirdly boastful about what car he drives (“I own an i8, a BMW, a nice fast car. I get speeding tickets but I pay them”) or the restaurants he eats at (“I’ve been to three of Gordon Ramsay’s so far”). Because doesn’t that pencil anecdote just sum him up? The genius who’d have to master so many skills and the man who’d have to put them all together.
When the judgement comes, it’s swift and unforgiving. This tends to happen on the internet: damnation goes viral. Reddit forums light up. He’s lying. The world quickly realises what Dr Courtois has already discovered: Wright, and his cryptographic proof, are full of shit – his early bitcoin transaction was one that had already been signed by Satoshi years ago. Anyone could have done it. To use his own Mona Lisa metaphor, he didn’t present a Polaroid of the painting on his wall – he presented someone else’s old Polaroid. From the BBC to The New York Times to The Guardian, claims of a hoax proliferated. Wright counters – he’ll provide “extraordinary proof” to match his “extraordinary claim”. It never comes.
BITCOIN ELIMINATES BANKS. IT’S BECOME THEMOST TRUSTED FORM OF MONEY IN THEWORLD.
Days later, Wright releases a statement on his website: “I know now that I am not strong enough for this. I’m sorry.” Various experts working on bitcoin-related projects chime in. “If he is who he claims to be, there’s an easy way to prove it,” says Pavel Matveev, of bitcoin start-up Wirex, which is working on a bitcoin debit card. “It seems like he’s Satoshi Nakamoto,” says Frank Schuil, of bitcoin spending platform start-up Safello, “but he has one hell of a reason not to reveal it.” “It’s a strange play either way,” says Dr James Smith of Elliptic, a bitcoin company that identifies illicit activity for financial institutions and law enforcement agencies. “I think he’d be nuts if it isn’t him, but I think he’d be nuts if it is as well.” Another writer, Andrew O’hagan, has been chronicling Wright’s story from the inside, after an offer by mysterious company ncrypt. The people behind ncrypt, it turns out, rescued Wright. His businesses were failing, he was in trouble with the Australian tax authorities and he owed his lawyers millions. They offered an out – they’d buy up his companies and settle his debts. In return, he’d work on patents linked to the underlying blockchain technology behind bitcoin. And he would publicly out himself as Satoshi. The package, they felt, was worth billions. They planned to sell to Google. Coincidence or not, while O’hagan’s writing his article, documents linking Wright to Satoshi are leaked to Wired and Gizmodo, explaining why a man worth more than three quarters of a billion should need such a bailout – most of his bitcoins are held in a trust, a document suggests. Wright can’t sell them until 2020. It’s one of many ‘facts’ that don’t quite add up. The patent story is true enough – ncrypt’s company director is a Mr Robert Macgregor. He, in turn, is linked to an umbrella company called EITC Holdings Limited. Between February 23 and April 29 this year, they filed 51 patents, all linked to blockchain technology. They are, in essence, trying to corner the market in the new internet of fact exchange. That said, experts are sceptical that the patents will be successful – ncrypt’s really selling Satoshi. The documents show plans
to use the technology for everything from voting to payroll, from money lending to music and film software to eradicate piracy. But many other claims by Wright don’t stand up to scrutiny. Take his tragic story about his friend Dave Kleiman. After the fall in the shower that December day – which saw Wright, so he says, leave the mantle of Satoshi behind him – Kleiman’s condition worsened. He developed sores, which became infected with golden staph; he was in and out of hospital and had multiple operations. Yet every time, he’d get right back to his computer, holding up for days at a time, rarely going out. After dismissing himself from hospital for a final time, he was found dead in his wheelchair on April 27, 2013. According to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner Office, his body was decomposing; there was blood and faecal matter; an empty bottle of alcohol and a loaded handgun next to him. Apparently, he died penniless – his Palm Beach home was in foreclosure. It’s been suggested, however, that as one of the founders of bitcoin, he actually passed away with some 350,000 bitcoins sitting on an encrypted USB drive that he kept on him at all times. “Yes, that’s accurate, based on the information that I have,” says Jon Matonis. But the question remains: why didn’t he cash out to get private health care? Speaking to O’hagan, Wright confirms Kleiman did indeed have 350,000 bitcoins. Yet in explaining why he didn’t sell, Wright says, “It wasn’t worth much then. Dave died a week before the value went up by 25 times.” O’hagan then adds, “He [Wright] emphasised something he said the commentators never understood – for a long time, bitcoin wasn’t worth anything and they constantly needed money.” But it’s not remotely true. At the time of Dave Kleiman’s death, on April 26, 2013, bitcoin’s value was at $124.50, making his stash of 350,000 worth more than $43.5m. The next week, meanwhile, rather than having gone up in value 25 times as Wright claims, it went down to $95.60. In fact, it wasn’t until weeks later that it had even reached the same level. It was baffling. Why lie? What was being hidden here? One of the few solid things that came from the real Satoshi are his blog posts, now archived at satoshi. nakamotoinstitute.org. He writes about the task at hand – personal details are virtually non-existent. Yet the most telling thing isn’t what the posts are about, but when they were posted. In more than 500 posts, Satoshi almost never published between the hours of 3pm and 9pm AEST, suggesting that’s when he slept. Wright says: “I was up at all times always doing stuff, as people have seen I was around the clock... ” Yet those publishing hours would suggest that Wright had a truly bizarre sleeping pattern of 3pm to 9pm. Transpose those same timings to Florida, however, where Kleiman lived, and it becomes 1am to 7am. Kleiman is rumoured to have died without giving anyone, not least his family, the drive’s encryption keys, meaning no one can access them. At today’s prices, the bitcoin on it would be worth $266m. If Kleiman – and not Wright – was the real Satoshi, it would explain why Wright didn’t move them. Maybe no one could. It would also mean he stepped away from being Satoshi after first being admitted to hospital, as his health began to fail. Kleiman’s former colleague at Computer Forensics LLC, Patrick Paige, contacted for his input, asks after Craig Wright: “Is he on suicide watch yet?” His tone doesn’t suggest concern. Perhaps most bizarrely, the reason Wright finally gives for not wanting to move the early bitcoins, thereby proving beyond all doubt he’s Satoshi, is an article with the headline: “UK Law Enforcement Sources Hint At Impending Craig Wright Arrest”. He sobs about this. He says, “The Brits have got their own version of Guantanamo Bay.” He says he’s damned if he does, he’s damned if he doesn’t. He’ll be seen as a fraud, or he’ll go to jail. Yet it turns out this isn’t true either. The story he’s referring to appeared on specialist bitcoin website bitcoinist.net. Yet go to that link now and it starts with an editor’s note: “The Siliconangle piece cited in this article was produced by an impostor site posing as the real Siliconangle.” Someone had gone to the effort of creating a fake website to create that story, the only difference being an extra “L” in the name. Senior editor at Bitcoinist, Evan Faggart, details the amount of time the Wright story was on their website before the editor’s note was added. “No more than 24 hours.” Twenty-four hours. Is it feasible that Wright clicked on this link once then never again? A man sobbing at the prospect of being locked up in whatever he assumes the British Guantanamo Bay to be? Would he not check back? One thing the editors at both sites agree on – the fake site, which has since been taken down, was an uncanny replica of the real thing. It would have taken substantial computer skills, and no small effort. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Faggart. One line in O’hagan’s piece, then, feels particularly pertinent, when the act seems to slip. When Wright seems to admit he was actually Satoshi’s sidekick. Wright makes the point that he wrote all the new patents himself and “not just Dave”.
As Wright’s claims unravel, New York plays host to a United Nations conference called ID2020 and 400 people from NGOS, tech firms and nearly every bank in the world. It’s the brainchild of John Edge, a former investment banker who, on May 4, 2013, was set up on a blind date with a girl who asked him, “All this money stuff, fine, but what are you doing to make a difference?” He didn’t have an answer, but he did have an idea. He knew how money flowed through computer systems. Specifically, how the FIX (Financial Information exchange) protocol radically changed trading when it was introduced in 1992, all but eliminating human errors. “What it did was turn a telecommunications network into a transactions network.” He realised Satoshi Nakamato, with the shared ledger that underpinned bitcoin, had done the same for the internet. But how to use it? He’d had meetings with global telecommunications players, with major banks, but the reaction was always the same: don’t be stupid. Isn’t bitcoin that thing for drug dealers? Only now, he had his lightbulb moment. What if there was an altruistic use for it? The bitcoin technology, the shared ledger, was incorruptible. It sat with no single government. He knew 1.5 billion people around the world didn’t have identities on paper – and without birth certificates, they could have no bank account, and were at greater risk of kidnap, trafficking and abuse. Edge is a likeable, plain-speaking man. He’s also not a shy one. On his second date, he said to the girl, “I think this system can get a billion people a bank account.” Bitcoin may change banking, but it’s the underlying technology that may truly end up changing the world. Even here, of course, there’s a final irony. That a man who sat in his house and invented the future, who never wanted his identity known and whose real name we’ll likely never know – perhaps Kleiman, who died alone – may end up providing identities for billions. When Satoshi first went missing, a popular tagline among bitcoin’s early adopters suggested they knew it was for the best; that perhaps one man would be too small for it, the invention was too big. It’s a line repeated again and again at the United Nations. “We are all Satoshi now.”