One of the greatest mysteries in crypto that no one has ever been able to solve is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the author of the original bitcoin whitepaper. That is the heart of the $8 billion lawsuit between nChain Chief Scientist Craig Wright and the estate of his late friend Dave Kleiman.
Wright is being sued by the brother of his late partner and friend, Dave Kleiman, who claims Wright robbed the estate of more than 500,000 bitcoins mined by the real Nakamoto in the early days of the cryptocurrency.
In an exclusive interview with Modern Consensus, Wright claims that the pseudonym was taken from a paper about “the Japanese Adam Smith” he downloaded from an academic database six months before the Bitcoin whitepaper dropped.
Dragged into the story
When I set out to look into this story almost two years ago, I didn’t know that it would turn into a huge strain on my emotional and physical health. The attorneys suing Wright—Devin “Velvel” Freedman and Kyle Roche—have subpoenaed me and my hard drives. Just because I have interviewed him a couple of times and we enjoy talking to each other.
They had a man waiting in front of my house when I came back from vacation to serve me papers. I don’t get paid for any of this. Lawyers are expensive.
On December 9, 2019 they doubled down on their attacks against me and went over each of my tweets (and my dumb TikToks!) about the Wright-Kleiman case with a fine toothed comb—going to far as to complain to the judge that I rickrolled them.
Over the past two years I watched as people called Craig Wright a fraud for claiming to be Nakamoto and to own the “Satoshi Blocks”—the first million or so bitcoins mined. To have these you would have needed early access to the Bitcoin software. You would have heard about it before anyone else, probably from Satoshi Nakamoto him or herself.
Getting the good stuff
Can I or anyone prove without a doubt that Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto? No. But what I can do is dig down next to the story and see what I find. I wouldn’t be a good writer if I didn’t know in my bones that this is where you get the good stuff.
Here is my reasoning for the method I choose to use.
There is no greater story form in journalism than what Kurt Vonnegut called “man in a hole.” Kirk Douglas’s 1951 film “Ace in the Hole” is about a deadbeat journo looking for a big story who finds a man stuck in a cave. If he pulls the guy out they’ll both be crushed. If he leads someone else in they could get killed. So he has to dig down. And he gives the daily updates.
I recall in vivid detail being 5 years old and having my mother show me a diagram of what happened in Midland Texas when Baby Jessica fell down the well. If they went down after her they would smother the baby. If they did nothing she would die. So instead they had to dig down next to it to see how they could get her out.
That has been the only guiding light in how I look at journalism and the stories I go after.
The Wright name
After I was subpoenaed, I got an email from a trusted source saying that a third party wanted to provide me with some info about the case. Someone wants to help me dig down. Worth checking out. When I responded to that I was told I would have a chat with someone who knows the case. That person turned out to be Craig Wright.
BJS: I have never quite understood what it is to be Craig Wright until this week. Idiots on twitter are saying that I made up my last interview with you. Did you hear I got subpoena’d?
CW: I saw your story, yes.
It’s funny, there were a lot of things you were trying to explain to me over the years. Immediately after you give someone information, instead of digesting this information, they attack you, they tell you that you’re a fraud, and that if you could prove it you’d prove it the way they would prove it and that you should do that—
This is what they want, yes. Do as we say, do as we say, do as we say—
[Chanting] One of us, one of us, one of us! Sound familiar? [Editor’s note: the line comes from the 1932 cult classic movie “Freaks.”]
That does sound familiar. So I got a lawyer, a very nice one, who pushed back. The case is very complex, I understand that, but at no point does it get any simpler than this. No one has the right to any of my hard drives or my private information and they’re never gonna get it.
Um, tell that to them!
The law is on my side in New York and Florida and people take this very seriously. Setting all that aside, how are you doing now?
Not too bad. I’ve just been digging up old documents. Trying to figure out what the horrible, horrible start of bitcoin was.
Adam Smith and others were really lucky. Because they had this thing in their will, and he had a friend. It said that when he dies, all the notes are going to be thrown into the fire and destroyed with only the published final works surviving, none of the things with spelling errors or scribbled out things. You get to be remembered differently when you have your notes destroyed.
I guess I have two questions. One is, tell me a hilarious document you found.
I have the origin of where I chose the name Satoshi.
Really? Break the story for me, what is it? [laughs]
[At this point, Wright produced a document on screen that appears to be an article from JSTOR, a digital database of academic journals. It was accessed on 5/1/2008 at 11:17 a.m. It is about Tominaga Nakamoto from the years 1715-1746 from a journal called Monumenta Nipponica—a Japanese studies journal published in English in 1967. Volume 22.
This article has a JSTOR Stablelink of 2383230 so, like in the blockchain, we can see the same article that Craig accessed in May 2008, six months before the bitcoin whitepaper dropped in October 2008.]
The direct link to the name Satoshi Nakamoto, however, is handwritten on the document in four lines:
- “Nakamoto is the Japanese Adam Smith.”
- “Honest Ledger + Micro Cash”
- “Satoshi is Intelligent History”
- “Not too hard.”
That obviously cannot be timestamped.]
That [phrase, “Not too hard”] refers to—if you look you’ll see I doxed myself in the nineties when I was getting annoyed with Julian Assange. I had used a Japanese name which means “Too hard,” or, “The problem’s too hard.”
Huh. You’re picking fights with Julian Assange, I love this.
I didn’t agree with him, what can I say?
But it was the ‘90s. Everyone was picking fights with everyone. We didn’t have so many trolls. The trolls are now famous.
So this is an article you accessed six months before the bitcoin whitepaper dropped. You picked Satoshi so it would be the Japanese Adam Smith?
In part, yes. He wrote about money and honest money and the rational nature of things. The shogun at the time was in financial crisis, and economic austerity, which I found proto-Keynesian.
This is going back to the 17th century. I like the description of him, and I got into his brother, Tōka. “Nakamoto was upright and quiet but impatient in character” and I thought, That sounds like me. [laughs]. Limitless knowledge, chronological order of texts was part of what he was doing, reordering books in chronological order.
Satoshi, the actual meaning is “intelligent learning.” It’s about ancestors, smart and wise ancestors. You’ve got the concept of blocks and whatever goes before, instructs what comes out but that’ll all come out. [Editor’s note: Like many Japanese words, Satoshi can be translated a lot of ways, and Wright’s is within the ballpark.]
And the funny thing is, you can get things forensically analyzed and whatever but that’s a different matter.
Um, so that came up the last time you were in court because something came up in discovery and people disagree on where it came from. Is that right? The Tulip Trust document has a timestamp and metadata that make it look like the document came from 2015 and not 2011.
[Editor’s note: Cybersecurity expert Matthew Edman testified that a Tulip Trust document Wright submitted, alleged to be from Dave Kleiman, was timestamped in 2014—a year after his death. It also incorrectly spelled his name “Klieman.” In another instance, a document supposedly from 2011 used a font created in 2015. Wright has said that could be because it was scanned using optical character recognition (OCR) that would have had access to that font.]
Uh, lots of things have come up, but the irony here is that machines that aren’t mine had stuff. Other people’s machines have emails purporting to come from myself but hey, that’s life. I won’t go into any more details of the case, for the moment.
Okay. I got ya. It’s not about the case, it’s just that [Ira Kleiman’s attorney, Velvel] Freedman seems to think that you and I talked about something that’s so important that he wants to go through my hard drives. We barely know each other.
Yes, but we’ve mentioned the word “bitcoin.” Thus, everything you’ve ever had in your life should be searchable, right? We live in this free effing society where everyone can look at anything you ever do and you have no privacy. That’s what they want, I guess? I’m sure I’ve seen that on TV, probably Black Mirror or something.
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve got a lot of “Well if you’ve got nothing to hide then why don’t you turn over what you have.” What kind of society says that? I don’t get it.
It’s okay until it happens to them. If you’re getting it, then you should hand things over. If I get it, it’s “Oh no, don’t do that!”
And I’m American, Craig.
Haha. Think of all these people who think they deserve to have an arsenal of guns in their basement, and they shouldn’t have to register it, but all of a sudden I have to send my text messages to a civil court in Florida because I did my job on Tuesday? I don’t think so.
Well, you have the right to misinterpret the American Constitution.
[Laughs] Yes, we do.
CW: The NRA always misquotes that line in the Constitution. It doesn’t say “You have a right to bear arms,” it says, “You have a right to bear arms for the service of the local militia.”
…well-regulated militia. [The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”]
Yes, right. You don’t just get the right to grab a gun. The Constitution doesn’t actually say you have the right to grab a gun, it says you have the right if you’re in a militia, and you’re part of a militia, to be armed for the militia.
Similarly, the First Amendment is about free press and Velvel Freedman, by going after me—I’m not an incredible reporter here, it’s not like I’m onto something that everybody in the world can’t figure out if they go through the case—but this has been months for me. By pulling me off of my beat on reporting on cases like this, they pulled someone out. That’s inhibiting freedom of the press, just to waste my time.
Welcome to the new world.
I get that it would be handy if I recorded all of my phone calls and kept a video camera rolling at all times just in case someone wants to win a court case. But if I had to sit for a deposition after I wrote every article I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. What do they [the plaintiffs] want?
What amount of money would actually satisfy any of them.?
Uh, how much money is on the earth? You take the richest 10,000 people and you multiply their money by a thousand, and I think they might just be okay, each.
[Laughs] Goddammit. Okay, second question: what do you think everyone gets wrong about this case? That’s a better question.
Uh, everything? Everyone’s speculating on a whole lot of things and they haven’t actually gone anywhere yet. They’re commenting on evidence; you have to do things like hand over hard drives in my case. What people don’t understand is that what actually becomes evidence is a different thing.
So, when you hand over things you have, you don’t sit there and analyze everything and you comment on it afterward. I’ve been a company director for many years. After the closure of the Australian companies, for instance, I have boxes I’ve never opened, basically sealed boxes that came from Australia with me, and all those get handed over.
Basically, if I get an order I follow it. My requirement was, “Hand over these things.” That doesn’t mean that they’ll actually end up in evidence. You have rules like Hearsay exemptions and whatever else but that requires business transactions. So, if you just have a computer that you don’t have the original owner of, that doesn’t mean it’s admissible. It gets posted around the internet like it is, but that doesn’t mean it will be.
I wonder if they know I’m recording this?
Of course. Gives them something to subpoena!
Updated lead photo at 2:05 p.m. EST Dec. 19, 2019.
Updated photo of Craig Wright with document for legibility at 2:50 p.m. EST Dec. 19, 2019.
Updated to add word “mined” to second paragraph at 12:28 p.m. on Dec. 20, 2019.