Newsweek ran an article last week exposing Bitcoin’s creator. But the real story may be behind the scenes.
This will be an ongoing logic/journalism problem that will update whenever I turn up anything pertinent or interesting. You can contact me at @jaycaspiankang or jay dot c dot kang at gmail dot com.
The Newsweek story by Leah McGrath Goodman falls well short of proving that Dorian S. Nakamoto of Temple City, Ca. is the Satoshi Nakamoto credited with the creation of Bitcoin. The whole drama has gotten under my skin in a way that’s tough to scratch, so I thought I’d arrange my thoughts here.
This is not an attempt to prove or disprove who invented a cryptocurrency. Dorian Nakamoto may very well be the creator of Bitcoin. I’m only interested in showing whether or not the Newsweek article answered the question it asked on its cover.
This is mostly a logic experiment for me, so it’s going to read pretty high-school debate nerdy. I plan on updating this pretty regularly as I continue my own reporting into the story.
Newsweek’s parts are in block quotes.
Satoshi Nakamoto stands at the end of his sunbaked driveway looking timorous. And annoyed.
He’s wearing a rumpled T-shirt, old blue jeans and white gym socks, without shoes, like he has left the house in a hurry. His hair is unkempt, and he has the thousand-mile stare of someone who has gone weeks without sleep.
He stands not with defiance, but with the slackness of a person who has waged battle for a long time and now faces a grave loss.
What, exactly, is being established in this lede? Is Goodman (a) trying to graft the cliched image of a bleary-eyed computer genius onto Nakamoto? Or is she (b) trying to show a man who is about to lose everything because she, intrepid reporter, has arrived in his driveway with the truth?
Option A makes no sense because Nakamoto, by nearly every account, no longer works on Bitcoin. If he’s bleary-eyed for some other reason (like say, his recent stroke), then its a floating detail that’s highly prejudicial in this context.
Option B is a bit tacky, but plausible. But if we want to talk about wild speculation and the general style of this article, let’s start with “the slackness of a person who has waged battle for a long time and now faces a grave loss.” Goodman piles a full narrative range of emotions onto Dorian Nakamoto that she could not have possibly ascertained in two minutes without relying heavily upon confirmation bias.
As in, “he clearly looks defeated because he knows I defeated him and the reason why I know he knows that I defeated him is because I know I defeated him.”
If it’s some Option C, Goodman has decided to start the piece with a non-sequitur.
The “smoking gun”
Now face to face, with two police officers as witnesses, Nakamoto’s responses to my questions about Bitcoin were careful but revealing.
Tacitly acknowledging his role in the Bitcoin project, he looks down, staring at the pavement and categorically refuses to answer questions.
“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
I admit that when I first read the piece, I latched onto this quote as something close to proof. But after a second examination, it becomes pretty clear that this quote comes without any context. What was the question that provided the answer? What was the “tacit” acknowledgement?
Without a transcript of this conversation or some explanation from Goodman, the quote is meaningless. As a reporter, you always end up wishing that certain quotes were placed in different contexts to bolster whatever argument you’re trying to make. What if the conversation went like this?
GOODMAN: You are the inventor of Bitcoin.
NAKAMOTO: Please leave me alone. I don’t want any trouble.
GOODMAN: I have done some research into your past and you certainly have the capacity, with your background in secret defense projects, to have created Bitcoin.
NAKAMOTO: <INSERT “SMOKING GUN” QUOTE HERE>
Obviously, this is speculative and only one example of how the conversation could have taken place, but if Goodman wants to really stand by her story, she should release more information about this conversation and how it happened.
This, from Forbes, on the driveway encounter in question and why it wasn’t recorded.
“I had a notebook, but it was obvious that a tape recording was not welcome,” says Goodman.
I can’t think of a single time when it has crossed my mind that a small, unobtrusive recorder would not be welcome in an interview, especially if I explained that it’s mostly there to protect the source from being misquoted. On a scale of high-risk, tense interviews with difficult subjects, the driveway confrontation described in the article is about a 6 out of 10. There’s no reason why it would be “obvious” that a recording was not welcome unless he explicitly said so.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles sheriffs’ department confirmed the Nakamoto quote, but not the specific context.
From ABC News:
“They had a dialogue, the deputies stood there and they were there while the two people were working things out,” said Parker. “The gentleman didn’t want to participate. He said enough for those quotes to be made and that was pretty much a wrap.”
Parker added that the deputy quoted in the story didn’t know about the mystery behind bitcoin’s creator prior to the call. After the reporter explained more about who she believed Nakamoto to be, that’s when the deputy made the quote, “This is the guy who created Bitcoin? It looks like he’s living a pretty humble life.”
This is telling because it shows Goodman’s propensity to tell anyone and everyone she encounters that Dorian Nakamoto is Satoshi Nakamoto. More on that later.
But a two-month investigation and interviews with those closest to Nakamoto and the developers who worked most frequently with him on the out-of-nowhere global phenomenon that is Bitcoin reveal the myths surrounding the world’s most famous crypto-currency are largely just that — myths — and the facts are much stranger than the well-established fiction.
And then two grafs down…
Not even his family knew.
Two questions: Who are the people closest to Nakamoto, if not his family?
If his family didn’t know, why is the brother the closest thing we have to a source?
Without that information, this passage seems deliberately misleading—if all you have are estranged family members, that doesn’t necessarily mean you talked to those “closest to Nakamoto.” Why not just say “his family?”
None of these family members knew about Bitcoin and yet they all talk on the record about Bitcoin. Were they all prompted into these responses?
Of course, there is also the chance “Satoshi Nakamoto” is a pseudonym, but that raises the question why someone who wishes to remain anonymous would choose such a distinctive name.
Satoshi Nakamoto is not a distinctive name in Japan. It’s not even a distinctive name in the United States. In fact, if you wanted to just generate a “John Smith” type generic Japanese name, you might end up with Satoshi Nakamoto. Again, this is a small point, but it is reflective of the logic used throughout the article.
Nakamoto ceased responding to emails I’d sent him immediately after I began asking about Bitcoin. This was in late February. Before that, I’d also asked about his professional background, for which there is very little to be found in the public record. I only received evasive answers.
It has already been established that Dorian Nakamoto worked on classified government projects. Why would he share any information with a reporter who would not divulge her background, except over the phone?
The “let’s do this over the phone, it’s too complicated over email” is a pretty ordinary reporter trick. You get the source on the phone to discuss something mundane and then you spring loaded questions on them to gauge how they might respond. The fact that Nakamoto sensed that something weird was going on and refused to talk on the phone does not, in any way, indicate guilt. It just means that he’s not an idiot.
Dorian’s own account of the encounter in the driveway, then, fits in better with Goodman’s narrative. What’s more plausible: a private, elderly man who had worked on some non-BTC classified projects in the past would have misunderstood the question and said, “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it?” Or that Satoshi Nakamoto, the Keyser Soze of the Internet, would just straight up out himself to a reporter?
The first option only requires a scared man who has no idea why a reporter is in his driveway to misunderstand a question. The second option requires several leaps of faith and a steadfast belief that Dorian and Satoshi are the same.
Goodman has since updated her story via Forbes.
“I was prepared up until the day I spoke to him for him to laugh and say it was a ridiculous coincidence. But he didn’t; he acknowledged it,” says Goodman. “I told him, ‘You’re acknowledging Bitcoin and if you weren’t involved you need to tell me now.’ He said, ‘I cannot do that.’”
Why wasn’t this in the original piece?
The day I arrived at his modest, single-family home in southern California, his silver Toyota Corolla CE was parked in the driveway but he didn’t answer the door.
This is just me being nit-picky, but come on, the exact make of his Corolla? Why? To further compromise any semblance of privacy? Does that detail really show a mastery of the subject or a keen eye? I’d argue it does the opposite.
It’s possible that this was just a detail that got shoved through the final edit, but it does, in its small way, bring into question every other detail in the story. If you’re going to go as far as to specify the CE model of the Corolla, why did you gloss over other, more important details? Like, for example, the context of any of these quotes?
Goodman addressed the car issue on Twitter.
@truth_eater Why did you publish the photo of home & car? What did doing so add to the story? Was there any discussion of risk to Nakamoto?
— paulrobichaux (@paulrobichaux) March 6, 2014
— Leah McGrath Goodman (@truth_eater) March 6, 2014
Huh? The only way to show a man’s humanity and humility is to note that he drives a Toyota Corolla CE (as opposed to the more expensive S model?) and that he lives in a reasonably nice home in Southern California? The detail you latch onto when describing a genius is the specific make of his car? Are we living in the Entourage movie?
Goodman’s explanation does not fit with the tone of the article, which reads almost like an old Village Voice expose of political corruption. In other interviews, Goodman has referred to Dorian Nakamoto as a visionary who changed the world. It’s very possible she believes that, but if you read her article in a vacuum, you’d come out thinking that Dorian Nakamoto had committed some sort of crime.
“My brother is an asshole. What you don’t know about him is that he’s worked on classified stuff. His life was a complete blank for a while. You’re not going to be able to get to him. He’ll deny everything. He’ll never admit to starting Bitcoin.”
His remarks suggested I was on the right track, but that was not enough. While his brother suggested Nakamoto would be capable of starting Bitcoin, I was not at all sure whether he knew for certain one way or the other. He said they didn’t get along and didn’t speak often.
This quote comes from Nakamoto’s brother. Again, without any context, it’s meaningless. Goodman has already established that this brother had no idea that Dorian invented Bitcoin and that the two have had a strained relationship. What is his speculation worth?
There are only two conclusions to draw here.
a) the earlier assertion that his family did not know is false.
b) Arthur Nakamoto’s statement was prompted by a reporter’s speculations about his estranged older brother.
If Goodman told the younger Nakamoto that her brother invented Bitcoin and that she has irrefutable evidence, then doesn’t it stand to reason that a stunned younger Nakamoto would say something like exactly like this?
This is the major logical error that’s committed throughout the article. If a reporter who claims to be in the know refers to Dorian as the creator of bitcoin and you have no idea whether or not she’s right, then your answer will probably reference him as the creator of Bitcoin, both out of conversational habit and because you trust that she’s found something more substantive.
UPDATE: Someone claiming to be Arthur Nakamoto has posted a lengthy diatribe on Reddit. If it’s real, it provides some perspective on what the Newsweek story did to the Nakamoto family and places the “asshole” comment in some context.
“He was the kind of person who, if you made an honest mistake, he might call you an idiot and never speak to you again,” Andresen says. “Back then, it was not clear that creating Bitcoin might be a legal thing to do. He went to great lengths to protect his anonymity.”
The quote comes from Gavin Andresen, Bitcoin’s chief scientist. It seems to be in there to show that the asshole Nakamoto’s brother described was surfacing in Dorian’s interactions with Andresen. If that’s not the intention, then it’s another non-sequitur.
Andresen has since said on Twitter that he regrets talking to Goodman. This post-publication tweet, by the way, which some have interpreted as “proof,” does not indicate that Andresen believes that the “Nakamoto family” is involved.
“I wish you wouldn’t keep talking about me as a mysterious shadowy figure,” Nakamoto wrote to Andresen. “The press just turns that into a pirate currency angle. Maybe instead make it about the open source project and give more credit to your dev contributors; it helps motivate them.”
Felix Salmon of Reuters wrote about Nakamoto’s fluency in English yesterday. I agree with his general argument that the Dorian Nakamoto who wrote these Amazon reviews does not seem capable of writing the Bitcoin papers or the email quoted above.
I will say, however, as an immigrant myself and as a devoted reader of what I’ll begrudgingly call “literature written by immigrants,” there are writers who come across much differently in print than they do in person. Ha Jin is an example. Aleksander Hemon is another. An accent and a flippant Amazon review don’t say much one way or another.
Here’s a video of Dorian Nakamoto speaking at a town hall meeting (via LAist). As you can see, his English is fine. Of all the weird possibilities and theories out there, the one that says Dorian Nakamoto is playing up his inability to speak English as an alibi isn’t all that far-fetched. It’s a well-worn trick, especially amongst Asian and Latino populations within the United States. Hell, I’ve even done it on a couple of occassions to avoid conversations on airplanes.
Without any explanation, Newsweek decided to publish a photo of Nakamoto’s house. Again, this is the small detail shell game. What is the point, except to show that a reporter went to a house? This is something newspaper reporters do every single day. It’s not evidence of anything except that the reporter did what reporters are supposed to do.
Mitchell says her husband “did not talk much about his work” and sometimes took on military projects independent of RCA. In 1987, the couple moved back to California, where Nakamoto worked as a computer engineer for communications and technologies companies in the Los Angeles area, including financial information service Quotron Systems Inc., sold in 1994 to Reuters, and Nortel Networks.
Nakamoto, who was laid off twice in the 1990s, according to Mitchell, fell behind on mortgage payments and taxes and their home was foreclosed. That experience, says Nakamoto’s oldest daughter, Ilene Mitchell, 26, may have informed her father’s attitude toward banks and the government.
Dozens of redditors have pointed out that this passage is pure, wild conjecture— just one of dozens of tenuous, circumstantial threads that holds the argument together. Again, we’re asked to make the leap that a guy who works on classified projects and who has a taciturn, inward and prickly demeanor and who had trouble with banks would also be the type of guy who would anonymously create a cryptocurrency.
Characteristics of Satoshi Nakamoto, the Bitcoin founder, that dovetail with Dorian S. Nakamoto, the computer engineer, are numerous. Those working most closely with Bitcoin’s founder noticed several things: he seemed to be older than the other Bitcoin developers. And he worked alone.
“He didn’t seem like a young person and he seemed to be influenced by a lot of people in Silicon Valley,” says Nakamoto’s Finnish protégé, Martti Malmi. Andresen concurs: “Satoshi’s style of writing code was old-school. He used things like reverse Polish notation.”
In addition, the code was not always terribly neat, another sign that Nakamoto was not working with a team that would have cleaned up the code and streamlined it.
“Everyone who looked at his code has pretty much concluded it was a single person,” says Andresen. “We have rewritten roughly 70 percent of the code since inception. It wasn’t written with nice interfaces. It was like one big hairball. It was incredibly tight and well-written at the lower level but where functions came together it could be pretty messy.”
There’s a missing internal link here.
It’s never been established that Dorian Nakamoto worked alone on ANYTHING, only that he was reclusive and closed-off to his family and did not like to talk about his classified work. Why would “he worked alone,” then, be evidence in any way of Dorian Nakamoto’s association with Bitcoin?
Along those same lines, Dorian Nakamoto may be an the older side of the programming spectrum, but does that necessarily mean he codes like an old guy? Do all old guys code the same? More importantly, does everyone from a certain era code the same? There’s some potential here to actually nail the story down better through an analysis of code, but Goodman breezes by it, content to assert that old dudes obviously code like old dudes.
Then there’s this, from Ed Felten, Princeton professor and expert in cryptology. (via Mashable)
Is there any evidence Dorian Nakamoto was conversant with the crypto literature? Because Satoshi clearly was. http://t.co/95nyMaEYto
— Ed Felten (@EdFelten) March 7, 2014
Mitchell suspects Nakamoto’s initial interest in creating a digital currency that could be used anywhere in the world may have stemmed from his frustration with bank fees and high exchange rates when he was sending international wires to England to buy model trains. “He would always complain about that,” she says. “I would not say he writes flawless English. He will pick up words and mix the spellings.”
Yet another example of where the suspicion is stated as fact by someone who does not know the veracity of the reporter’s claims. How were these quotes prompted? What was the context of the conversation? And how the hell do you explain, “Mitchell suspects Nakamoto’s initial interest in creating a digital currency …”?
Again, if you tell someone that something is true and they trust that you’re telling the truth, the conversation will proceed as if those things are true. And the moment they latch onto the new “truth,” everything they say will carry the aftershocks of the small bomb you just detonated in their heads.
[Dorian’s wife] has been unable to get Nakamoto to speak with her about whether he was the founder of Bitcoin. Eric Nakamoto says his father has denied it. Tokuo and Arthur Nakamoto believe their brother will leave the truth unconfirmed.
“Dorian can just be paranoid,” says Tokuo. “I cannot get through to him. I don’t think he will answer any of these questions to his family truthfully.”
Sorry to beat a dead horse, but how did these conversations take place? What did you tell them?
Calling the possibility her father could also be the father of Bitcoin “flabbergasting,” Ilene Mitchell says she isn’t surprised her father would choose to stay under cover if he was the man behind this venture, especially as he is currently concerned about his health.
“He is very wary of government interference in general,” she says. “When I was little, there was a game we used to play. He would say, ‘Pretend the government agencies are coming after you.’ And I would hide in the closet.”
Nice scene, but what are we supposed to take away from this?
It seems as if Goodman here was hedging against the possibility that Nakamoto was going to deny everything. Again, the paraphrased statement from Mitchell should be placed within some context. If Mitchell hasn’t spoken to her father in years, what, really does she know about how he might react? And what does her prompted speculation really tell us about Dorian Nakamoto?
The kicker quote is the death knell for me. The game referenced, of course, was played before Bitcoin was ever a thought in anyone’s head. And it tells us nothing except that a Japanese-American man who had done some work for the government decided to use “government agencies” as the bogeyman.
That Goodman wants us to take this scene away as some sort of salient moment that provides insight into the inner-workings of Dorian Nakamoto actually provides more insight into just how far Newsweek was willing to go to make this story stick.
Goodman has gone on the TV circuit since her story broke. Here’s an interview she gave with Bloomberg TV.
I’ve watched this video several times and am struck by how Goodman evades every question about “evidence” by going on the offensive against Tom Keene. Yes, Keene is asking tough questions and yes, he seems less than impressed with Goodman’s tactics, but nothing he’s asking is out of bounds or “unfair.” (Save the Tina Brown bit, which was a bit silly.) Goodman, for her part, never names a single piece of hard evidence.
Instead, Goodman seems content to point out that “forensic investigators” researched this and could not rule out Dorian Nakamoto. This is roughly akin to saying, “this overweight man wears pinstripes and a baseball cap, drinks to excess and seems to work at Yankee stadium” and then concluding that the overweight man in question must be Babe Ruth because unnamed experts said they could not rule out the possibility that he is Babe Ruth. Keene asks if there was more to the process than what’s revealed in the story. Goodman does not answer the question.
There’s also a weighty probability question here as well: Is it more probable that Goodman and two “forensic investigators” (what does that title even mean?) found Satoshi Nakamoto in two months? Or is it more possible that Goodman and the forensic investigators stumbled upon a compelling set of coincidences and then forced them to fit their narrative.
One of the forensic investigators gave an interview with Business Insider.
Despite all the denials, Sergeant says all the evidence she found still points to Dorian Nakamoto.
“It still comes down to the fact that we could not rule him out. And we tried. You don’t want to go down 50 million paths barking up the wrong tree. There was a point at which we turned everything over to the journalist, and now it’s, ‘you gotta talk to people and see if there’s any more info that does not converge.’ And the only thing that does not converge is Dorian says it’s not him.”
But even his denials fit the stereotype, she said.
“I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I have seen people deny everything up to the last minute. So my confidence level in the research is, this is the character of the developer, and the name, but more so the career-path of Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto does converge.”
Let’s be clear here. If we go by the article, the “people” Goodman contacted to confirm whether or not the paths converged were Dorian Nakamoto’s estranged family members, who all said they had no idea what he had been up to. Goodman did not talk, at least on the record, to any former colleagues or anyone who had worked with Dorian Nakamoto in the past. Had she done that, she might have had a better idea of his capabilities as a programmer and even might have been able to uncover some office memos or projects that would shed some light on whether or not he was capable of all this. If the last standard the forensic investigator laid out here is correct — that this needed corroboration from people in the know—Goodman and Newsweek came up short.
Newsweek, for its part, seems to be walking back some of their rhetoric. This from an interview at SXSW with Goodman’s editor, via Pando Daily.
Impoco had taken to Twitter to respond to Pando’s Adam Penenberg who was “disturbed by Newsweek not even admitting the possibility that its Bitcoin story could be wrong. It’s all the wrong kind of stubborn.” Impoco’s response was firm: “We said we stand by the story. What more is there to say. If we are wrong nobody has made the case.” Impoco also confirmed in a video interview for IBT that there is “not a thing” he’d change about the story.In person, though, Impoco sounds less resolute.
“There were so many things that led up to [finding Nakamoto],” Impoco said. “We eliminated every other possible person.”
But he also insists that Newsweek did not claim it had definitively, without a doubt, found the man behind Bitcoin. “We hedged in the article and explained what we knew for sure… We’re ready to admit that we were wrong if someone can prove it.”
Regarding the less-than-slam-dunk evidence outlined in the piece, Impoco explains that he and Goodman had grappled with how much transparency about the reporting process they should offer in the story. Perhaps ironically, Impoco says he and Goodman were concerned about distracting from the core of the story.
Update 11:50 ET March 10
Professor Satoshi Nakamoto?
One of the theories about the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto says that he must be an academic. The people who make this argument cite the fact that the original Bitcoin whitepaper was formatted as an academic paper and must have required a lengthy study in cryptology.
This isn’t necessarily true.
I spoke to Matthew Green, an assistant research professor at Johns Hopkins who works in the field of cryptology. Green said that the original Bitcoin paper bore the marks of a non-academic who, for whatever reason, decided to write his ideas down in an academic format. Green pointed out the fact that the paper had been written in Open Office as opposed to LaTeX, the word processing system used by academics in the CS field, and said that there were certain quirks in the original Bitcoin code that pointed to a “hobbyist.” He noted that this did not necessarily rule out the possibility that an academic might have used a different format, but said that the evidence mostly pointed towards a non-academic. (This assessment has been corroborated by other CS academics.)
Green also said that there was nothing about Satoshi Nakamoto’s work on Bitcoin that would narrow the field of possible candidates down to a small, elite group of computer geniuses.
“There are a lot of people who have the background to do this,” Green explained. “If you’re a hobbyist who has the time and you’re interested in the topic, you could do it. The ideas were all out there. Actually doing it was the hardest part. It would have been taken a lot of time. He might have had to go off the grid for a year while they fooled around with code.”
As for Newsweek’s claim that Satoshi’s coding habits betrayed an older engineer, Green said that any number of things could explain Satoshi’s style and that many younger programmers, including himself, used some of the allegedly old-timey quirks cited in the Newsweek article.
That opinion was echoed by Ed Felten, a CS professor at Princeton who has worked extensively in the field of Internet security. “I don’t find the argument that Satoshi Nakamoto would have to be part of a specific generation to be particularly convincing,” Felten said in reference toNewsweek’s assertion that Satoshi’s coding betrayed his age. “It’s only a weak hint. That could be almost anyone of any age.”
Goodman has explained that she used a forensic investigation approach that eliminated candidates until only Dorian S. Nakamoto was left. (She has since walked back that statement in an update to Felix Salmon’s original Reuters story about “the Satoshi Paradox.”) Green’s assessment of the type of person capable of creating Bitcoin certainly would not eliminate Satoshi Nakamoto, who had both the requisite background and the free time necessary to take on the feat of engineering Bitcoin, but that same, loose description also lets in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of other candidates.
If all you need to be Satoshi Nakamoto is a healthy interest in cryptology, distribution systems and money, the field of possible candidates is far too big to submit to a narrowing process, unless, of course, the field of candidates you selected are all named “Satoshi Nakamoto.”
For the sake of argument, let’s proceed under the assumption that Satoshi Nakamoto used his real name in the original Bitcoin paper. Under those very favorable conditions, if your task was to simply find the one Satoshi Nakamoto in the United States who COULD have created Bitcoin, then you might be able to eliminate everyone but Dorian S. Nakamoto. But if you open up the limits to anything resembling reality, a definitive elimination becomes almost impossible.
The other problem with using an “elimination” process is that every limiting step has to be correct or the whole system breaks down. Hypothetically, let’s say the forensic research has determined that Satoshi Nakamoto must have blue hair and that determination limited out 10 green-haired candidates. You cannot reach your one-man endpoint if it turns out that your forensic research is wrong. Those 10 green-haired candidates become candidates again.
Under that premise, let’s examine the “old-timey” limit described in the Newsweek article. Goodman specifically cites Satoshi Nakamoto’s habits in the original Bitcoin code and his usage of terms like “disk space” and “Moore’s Law” as evidence that Satoshi must be an older human being. Can we use this limit?
Well, no. Green is in his thirties and said he sometimes codes like Satoshi Nakamoto.
Then there’s this.
In our office at A16Z, there are probably 20 conversations a day about disk space and/or Moore’s Law. And they’re not getting less frequent.
— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) March 7, 2014
If we accept Green and Andreesen’s descriptions of their own lives, Goodman’s “old-timey” elimination process has to be thrown out. Even two exceptions should overwhelm the rule. (It’s worth noting here that Matt Green and Marc Andreesen are not very hard to find)
If Goodman and Newsweek want to point to their “forensic investigation” approach as evidence, that approach should be completely bulletproof and should not rely upon shades of probability and educated guesses or else the system isn’t a system at all.
I also exchanged emails with someone who worked with Dorian Nakamoto at Quotron Systems, one of the former workplaces cited by Newsweek. Among the refrains found throughout Goodman’s article is the assertion that Dorian Nakamoto was the sort of gifted programmer and brilliant thinker who could have engineered an entire cryptocurrency on his own and that the proof lay in his prior work on highly complex projects, both for corporations and for the government.
His former colleague had a different recollection of Dorian Nakamoto’s work: “His skills as a software engineer where typical for the era but nothing that special from what I remember. He was not in the “top tier” of developers. I find it highly unlikely that Dorian had the skill set to create a crypto-currency.”
“I do not feel that Dorian had any special knowledge about finances or currency that we would have gleaned from working at Quotron. I believe the Newsweek article implied that his association with Quotron made him a candidate which is patently a false assumption.”
To be fair, Newsweek never stated that Nakamoto’s work with any one of his former employers would have prepared him for his work on Bitcoin. But Goodman does ask us to take the totality of Dorian Nakamoto’s work as evidence of his capacity to create Bitcoin. The problem is that there is no real information provided about what, exactly, he did at those places. Words like “classified government projects” and “financial modeling systems” might sound technical and fancy, but without anything more specific, Goodman and Newsweek are asking us to play a game of assumption by association.
For example, the name Quotron, a company that built brokerage terminals and trading systems, might evoke a certain fiscal savvy and an interest in banking, but that certainly doesn’t mean a software engineer working at Quotron would have any interest in banking or money.
“Almost all of the software engineers where just that — software engineers,” the former colleague said. “We were more concerned with how data was captured, stored, transmitted and displayed than what was done with it. Working for Quotron did not make one an expert on crypto-currency or any real realm of the financial industry.”
Goodman and Newsweek might object here and say that they never intended for such inferences to be made. But when nothing else is provided as evidence, save some out-of-context quotes from the family, what, exactly are we supposed to do? There is no other evidence to interrogate. All we have is a list of former employers and the fog of associations that might come with it.
As stated before, my criticism here doesn’t preclude the possibility that Dorian Nakamoto did, indeed, create Bitcoin. The coincidence of the names and the professional background make him an interesting, if not overly compelling candidate and if the Newsweek article had been a reddit post, it might have been an entertaining, fun read.
But a coincidence in names and computer-related activity does not equal a story. At best, it’s the third or fourth best theory on Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity out there right now. Reporters are a lot like poker players — when they don’t have the goods, they oftentimes resort to overacting to sell their bluffs. There’s a place for the first-person reporter who talks you through travels and conversations — in fact, I prefer it — but when it’s just a check-list of shit the reporter did to ensure that his or her reportage would be trusted, the authority of the voice gets diluted.
In the end, this is what we have. The TL;DR version:
A man named Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto may or may not have worked on projects that would have required the expertise and intelligence necessary to create Bitcoin. Ergo, he could have created Bitcoin. The absence of evidence is the evidence.
Furthermore, Nakamoto seems to share some of the traits we stereotypically associate with the darker corners of the Internet — libertarianism, isolation and assholiness.
He drives this make of car and here is a photo of his house to prove that I am a reporter. And here’s what his estranged family said when I told them that Dorian created Bitcoin.
Is that really enough?
An earlier version of this article was originally featured on Medium and republished with permission. You can find the original here. Jay Caspian Kang is a novelist. His journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
Pure, uncut internet. Straight to your inbox.