As I read Newsweek’s outing of Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto as the mysterious founder of Bitcoin, I felt transported to a jury box where an overzealous prosecutor was trying hard to convince me of a conclusion she believed was true, even though it had been built entirely on weak circumstantial evidence.
Had it been a real trial, I couldn’t possibly have delivered a guilty verdict. Not only was the case so full of holes that reasonable doubt had no trouble seeing the light of day, I imagined the judge would have been pretty upset with the district attorney for bringing the case and wasting the court’s precious time.
And yet, the next day after Newsweek’s cover story broke, Nakamoto submitted to a two-hour AP interview where the Temple City, Calif., resident did a fair job of clearing his name from what had quickly become a media circus, not to mention getting a much-deserved sushi lunch out of the deal.
Just yesterday, the Japanese American took a predictable next step: an official, if not somewhat ominous, statement of denial penned by a newly retained attorney.
At this point, the only doubt that remains in my mind is whether Newsweek is going to go with it’s “that’s our story and we’re sticking to it” strategy or maybe try to catch the “journalistic integrity” train before it leaves the station, seeing as it missed the last one.
To me, the evidence that a 64-year-old guy with serious financial and health problems is the same guy who penned this 2008 Bitcoin peer-to-peer electronic cash system paper, wrote the protocol, and set the wheels of the now infamous digital currency in motion, simply doesn’t add up.
First, the writing in the original paper, plus all the subsequent communication between the real Bitcoin creator and his developers, was that of a fluent writer who often used British English spelling and expressions. That’s simply 180 degrees in the opposite direction from Dorian, whose English speech and writing could never be described as fluent.
And, while Dorian is clearly a smart guy with technical expertise, his engineering experience with Hughes Aircraft, the FAA, and Quotron have absolutely nothing to do with the kind of knowledge of cryptography, peer-to-peer financial systems, currency, and code-writing needed to invent Bitcoin.
In fact, some of the Bitcoin developers who worked closely with the real Nakamoto believed he had a PhD and was possibly a professor or research scientist. That’s a far cry from Dorian’s capability, to be sure. I should know. Like Dorian, I was once an electronics engineer. And I couldn’t invent Bitcoin if my life depended on it.
Meanwhile, the Temple City Nakamoto has had all sorts of money trouble and hasn’t had a steady job since being laid off by the FAA after September 11, 2001. His home was foreclosed upon and, according to yesterday’s statement, he’s had to work as a laborer, a poll taker, and a substitute teacher to help make ends meet.
In recent years, he’s struggled with prostate surgery and a stroke. And he now lives in a humble single family home in the San Gabriel Valley. Beverly Hills, it’s not.
In yesterday’s statement, Dorian wrote, “My prospects for gainful employment (have) been harmed,” by what he calls “Newsweek’s false report.” He goes on to say, “I have retained legal counsel. This will be our last public statement on this matter.” I could be wrong, but that sounds very much to me like a precursor to a defamation suit.
Now, if that doesn’t come close to the way you’d be handling this if the report was true and you had about a million bitcoins worth more than half a billion dollars hiding under your mattress, you’re not alone. It just doesn’t pass the smell test. Not even close.
And that brings us to the name. Most people associated with Bitcoin concluded that Satoshi Nakamoto was a pseudonym, either for an individual or a group. The article essentially asks, why choose such an uncommon pseudonym?
This annotated analysis of the Newsweek article shows that the name is actually not uncommon, that Satoshi and Nakamoto are actually the 69th and 492nd most popular given names and surnames, respectively, in Japan.
Using those same rankings, that would be like calling yourself Adam Phelps or Brandon McGuire in the United States. Not exactly John Smith, but there are plenty of them, nevertheless.
Besides, does it make sense that the real Nakamoto, a guy who took such great pains to keep his identity hidden, would use his real name and just stick a western first name in front? Does that make sense to anyone out there? Anyone? … Bueller? … Bueller? … Bueller?
Lastly, why would Newsweek choose to present this as an open and shut case, as a factual report, when it’s clearly not? That, in itself, tells us something very important. It tells us that Newsweek wanted an enormous scoop for the cover story of its much-heralded print relaunch, and a “theory” piece wasn’t going to cut it.
So, I’m guessing that, once editor-in-chief Jim Impoco committed to the story, he absolutely had to have a blockbuster … or else.
Sadly, as Gavin Andresen, who led the Bitcoin code development with whoever the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto was, wrote to the article’s author, Leah McGrath Goodman, “… all of your evidence is circumstantial, EXCEPT for the 'I’m not involved in that any more' quote, which might simply be an old man saying ANYTHING to get you to go away and leave him alone.” Well put, I’m afraid.
Not only do the facts not add up, my gut tells me that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto is not the Satoshi Nakamoto. And, as a high-tech veteran who grew up on the streets of New York, whenever my logical brain and instincts are in agreement, that’s usually a pretty reliable compass.
While journalistic integrity prevents me from saying unequivocally that the guy Newsweek outed isn’t the guy that created Bitcoin, I do hope things turn around for Dorian. Poor guy’s had a rough go of it.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive. He runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting where he advises executives and business leaders on anything and everything. Contact Tobak.