On Tuesday, Andy Greenberg of Wired and Andy Crush and Sam Biddle of Gizmodo put out articles from congruent but separate investigations that put forth the theory that Australian born Craig Wright is the famed and anonymous creator of bitcoin known as Satoshi Nakamoto. While neither article went as far as to say that Wright was confirmed as Nakamoto, both laid out what seemed like solid arguments on why he should be a leading suspect.
Today, journalists involved in both articles have stepped back significantly, with articles titled “New Clues Suggest Craig Wright, Suspected Bitcoin Creator, May Be a Hoaxer” and “The Mystery of Craig Wright and Bitcoin Isn’t Solved Yet” were put out by Greenberg and Crush respectively.
This makes three major mainstream media outlets that seemingly fingered Satoshi Nakamoto, only to have the larger community reject their assertion. The first was Newsweek when they relaunched their print edition with a cover story that claimed a southern California Japanese-born man named Dorian Nakamoto was the true Satoshi Nakamoto. While that report has largely been discredited, Newsweek never retracted the story, which depended on scant and circumstantial evidence. Wired and Gizmodo haven’t retracted their stories either, but these updates are an admission that their theories are not as solid as they felt it was when they wrote the original articles.
For that, they should be commended. Their original articles were backed up by a trove of evidence that some less reputable journalists would stick by, regardless of the facts that came out afterwards. As mentioned, Newsweek never admitted their article was lacking.
There have been three major developments since the release of those articles that caused their authors to back off their original claims:
- The existence of Wright’s supercomputers, supposedly used to mine an incredible amount of the currency in its early days has come into doubt.
- Wright’s PhDs listed on his (now deleted) LinkedIn page appear to be fabrications as (again, according to Wired) the university denied that he holds a PhD there.
- Most damning of all, the PGP keys that were supposedly linked to both Satoshi and Wright and was the most concrete piece of evidence that Wright is Satoshi, also seems to be a fabrication because as Vice‘s Motherboard first reported, they appear to have been created after Satoshi’s disappearance.
Wired stated outright that the Wright as Satoshi theory may have been a hoax perpetuated by Wright himself and it appears many others are coming to that same conclusion. Wired notes that their source insulted Wright and questioned his character in a way that wasn’t fit for print, and did other things that would seem to indicate that the source was not Wright himself. Greenberg argues that this makes it less likely that the hoax was perpetrated by Wright himself, but let me assert another theory:
Anyone wanting to take credit for Satoshi’s work, who didn’t have access to his PGP keys, would know that simply coming out and saying “I am Satoshi” would be met with massive skepticism without the PGP keys. It might be better to simply leave some clues around and wait a while until some hacker finds them and passes them onto a journalist.
Blog posts that were backdated by Wright, possibly to make it look like he had more involvement in bitcoin’s creation (or on the flip side, an attempt to finally get credit for his work) were modified 20 months ago. Greenberg seems to imply that the length of the potential con indicates that it may not be a con at all.
“If Wright is in fact faking the clues connecting him to bitcoin’s creation, plenty of questions remain. Our archived copies of the blog posts showed that their backdated changes had begun in March 2014 at the latest, meaning that any hoax would have to be a long con more than 20 months old.”
But we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, and even if Wright never got access to Satoshi’s accounts, the fame that would come with being credited as Satoshi Nakamoto would be worth a lot to the kind of person who seeks out that kind of attention. I don’t doubt someone like that would be willing to wait 20 months or more when seeking those kind of prizes. It seems perfectly reasonable, especially when you consider that everyone knows that journalists and hackers the world over are looking for answers. I might be easier to put out a few clues and then wait a year or two or even three for someone to notice and for journalists to come knocking at your door. Wright may have just planned to continue putting out “clues” until someone noticed.
What is important here, and what I think Greenberg and Crush and Biddle initially missed or didn’t give enough weight to is the importance of motivations. If someone is purposefully altering documents to make Wright appear as Satoshi, then there has to be a reason. If Wright is doing it himself, then it is obvious why: he wants credit for what Satoshi did, but if he is Satoshi and only wants credit for his hard work, then he simply needs to announce to the world that he is Satoshi, using the legitimate PGP key, and be done with it.
If Wright is Satoshi and Satoshi (Wright) wants credit, it is as simple as doing that. Purposefully altering documents and falsifying PGP codes simply puts every other piece of evidence into doubt. If he faked that evidence, why should we believe the rest of the evidence wasn’t fabricated in someway?
The other option is that someone else is attempting to expose Wright as Satoshi either because they honestly believe it and have no moral qualms about falsifying evidence to push what they think is the truth, or because they have an agenda against Wright and want to put his life in danger as identifying him as a man with access to the world’s largest stash of bitcoins.
Considering that, according to Wired, Wright has been publicly claiming to have been involved in bitcoin’s early creation, it seems likely that he wants more credit than he is currently getting (or was getting before Tuesday’s articles). Because of this, the theory that Wright is the victim of some psychopath with an agenda doesn’t hold much water, even though he may be victim of extortion on another level.
If Wright wanted to be added to the list of possible Satoshis, then he has succeeded in that. There is enough evidence to put him on the list, even if he doesn’t quite reach the top of it, he is above Dorian, if nothing else. As for Wired and Gizmodo, they are getting some heat for their attempt to unmask Satoshi Nakamoto and rightfully so.
It appears, at the very least, that their initial proclamations of Wright and/or his late friend Dave Kleiman were likely, or in Wired‘s words “probably” Satoshi, was going too far. Still, they put a lot of new information out there, and when the time came to take their lumps, they got on a keyboard and each pumped out an article that more accurately described the present situation. While I am not intimately familiar with Crush and Biddle’s work, I do know that Greenberg has been one of the best mainstream journalists when it comes to bitcoin that we have, and we shouldn’t run him out of town because of one article.
People want the media to stop looking into the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. They cite the danger the publication would be putting the person in, regardless if their assertion was accurate or not. These people are correct in thinking that, but incorrect in thinking that there is anything anyone can do to stop it. Humans are, if nothing else, curious creatures. Let us not forget who Satoshi actually is: An anonymous computer programmer who made a disruptive technology and his own currency and then disappeared with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of that currency and (so far) has neglected to spend it. That is a story. People want to hear about stuff like that. It is going to grab some attention, and that attention is not going to stop, regardless of how loud people cry on Twitter.
Information has a tendency to spread and attempts to stop it usually don’t fare well. The only thing we can do is do our best to make sure it is accurate, Wired and Gizmodo may have failed at that, but it wasn’t from the lack of trying. The mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto is a story with a seemingly infinite supply of complexity. It shouldn’t be surprising that journalists are going to get it wrong and while it is important to point out their inaccuracies (like the fantastic aforementioned Motherboard article) we should welcome, not shun, what those journalists can bring to this community when they do get it right.