For Dorian Nakamoto, bitcoin article brings denials, intrigue

For Dorian Nakamoto, bitcoin article brings denials, intrigue
Journalists surround Satoshi Nakamoto as he walks from his home to a car in Temple City on Thursday (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)

More than a day after Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto denied any links to bitcoin, about the only thing that remained clear was that the disclosure had turned the life of the reclusive Japanese American upside down.

Reporters were still camped outside his Temple City home Friday as the writer of the Newsweek article that had named him as the bitcoin creator went on national TV to defend her work. Critics of the article continued to raise questions about whether Dorian Nakamoto, 64, was indeed the secretive genius behind the virtual currency that has now grown into a multibillion-dollar phenomenon.


Far from putting to rest the question of Nakamoto's true identity, the cover story had triggered a raging debate across the Internet about its validity.

And yet, even under withering scrutiny, the story continued to occupy a strange limbo in which it didn't seem to offer conclusive proof and yet contained a number of compelling coincidences that couldn't be completely dismissed.

"Seeing him flee a scene and now deny it, I have to say it's mystifying to me," said Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman in an interview on "CBS This Morning." "His family — and that's part of why I'd written it into the story — had told me that they predicted that he'd be either cagey or deny it. But with me he definitely acknowledged bitcoin."

It was Goodman's blockbuster story on Thursday that claimed to have solved one of the Internet's greatest puzzles: Who was Satoshi Nakamoto? That name was long assumed to be an alias for a programmer who had laid the foundation in 2008 for bitcoin, a virtual currency that has generated worldwide attention — and controversy — over the last year.

As bitcoin began to gain traction a couple of years ago, Nakamoto withdrew from the project to let others carry it forward. He remained in the shadows until Goodman apparently tracked him down and confronted him at his modest home.

"I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it," he told Goodman in her story. "It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."

The publication caused a sensation that sent reporters scurrying to Nakamoto's doorstep. Eventually, Nakamoto fled the scene Thursday, driven by an Associated Press reporter and tailed by several other reporters until they disappeared into AP's downtown office.

In an extended interview with the Associated Press, Nakamoto insisted that Goodman had misunderstood his comments, which in the story amount to the most compelling evidence in the case that he is the bitcoin creator.

"I'm saying I'm no longer in engineering. That's it," he said of the exchange with Goodman. "And even if I was, when we get hired, you have to sign this document, contract saying you will not reveal anything we divulge during and after employment. So that's what I implied."

"It sounded like I was involved before with bitcoin and looked like I'm not involved now. That's not what I meant. I want to clarify that," he said.

Adding to the intrigue, a cryptic post appeared on a forum from the account used by the real bitcoin creator.

"I am not Dorian Nakamoto," the post says.

The comment is on the P2P Foundation website where "Satoshi Nakamoto" had created an account using a publicly known email address and posted about the idea for bitcoin and discussed its development. The comment is at the bottom of a post Nakamoto made in February 2009 called "Bitcoin open source implementation of P2P currency."

On Internet forums such as Reddit, users dissected emails from Dorian Nakamoto that show him to be somewhat less than fully fluent in English, much as he appears in a video posted by the Associated Press. And yet, the author of many original bitcoin documents and posts wrote in clear, sophisticated English.

Despite the denials and questions, Newsweek was not backing down. In a statement posted on its website, the magazine's editors said it stood by the reporting on what it says was a matter of public interest. A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman also confirmed Goodman's quotes after talking to two deputies who had been called to the scene when she tried to interview Nakamoto.

"Ms. Goodman's reporting was motivated by a search for the truth surrounding a major business story, absent any other agenda," Newsweek editors wrote. "The facts as reported point toward Mr. Nakamoto's role in the founding of Bitcoin."

None of that satisfied the bitcoin community, which remained all but sure Dorian Nakamoto was not the right guy. Just as inflammatory was the notion that the controversy had brought unwanted attention to an innocent private citizen.

"At best, it's extremely irresponsible journalism," said Peter Vessenes, chief executive of CoinLab and chair of the Bitcoin Foundation. "At worst, it's putting an ordinary citizen at extraordinary physical and emotional risk."

Indeed, such feelings inspired Andreas M. Antonopoulos, a serial entrepreneur and the chief security officer of Blockchain, to launch a campaign to raise money for Dorian Nakamoto. In a post on Reddit, Antonopoulos wrote:

"If this person is not Satoshi, then these funds will serve as a 'sorry for what happened to you,' help with medical bills his family is facing, any legal bills they may incur, or anything else. Most of all, it serves to soften the damage caused by irresponsible journalism and to demonstrate the generosity and empathy of the community, which I know is huge."

By Friday afternoon, the campaign had raised 24.94284212 bitcoins — or about $15,500.

Twitter: @obrien