Last night, The Verge and at least three other outlets received an email from someone claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious inventor of bitcoin. The email we received was brief and to the point: “I met with the SEC yesterday. I am ready to talk.”
The individual declined to give his legal name, but said recent leaks had forced him to speak to the press, even as he intended to remain anonymous. At the same time, he claimed that various agencies in the government, including the SEC, IRS, and FBI were aware of his true identity. “The government knows who I am, and that’s the way it should be,” he said in a call with The Verge. “The public doesn’t know, and I’m going to have it remain that way.”
But in the emails and conversations that followed, it became clear that the would-be Satoshi’s primary purpose was to promote a new blockchain detailed at CoinProject.org — and significant doubts emerged about whether he was in fact Bitcoin’s mysterious creator, or simply a scammer hoping to draw attention to a speculative cryptocurrency.
“The public doesn’t know, and I’m going to have it remain that way.”
While the man offered significant detail on Coin, he was unable to provide the kind of evidence that would be necessary to definitively prove his identity as Satoshi. He declined to sign a message with a PGP key that is linked to Satoshi’s online persona, did not demonstrate access to old email addresses (which, to be fair, have largely been compromised), and most importantly, would not move bitcoins that are known to belong to the real Satoshi. He claimed that, on leaving the project in 2010, he had deleted all the private keys linked to Satoshi, hoping to destroy any evidence of his role in Bitcoin’s origin. As a result, it was impossible to present any cryptographic proof of his identity.
The evidence he did present was extensive, but every piece of it was already available from previous sources. In one email, he sent a copy of the two earliest known instances of the bitcoin protocol, alpha versions 0.1.0 and 0.1.3, both of which are believed to have been coded and compiled by Satoshi himself. But those versions were shared widely by Nakamoto at the time of release, and are already freely available from the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute.
This ostensible Satoshi also presented screenshots of emails between him and cryptographer Wei Dai, who is often named as the creator of a precursor to modern cryptocurrency. The emails were dated to August 2008, showing Satoshi writing from his anonymousspeech.com account to talk cryptocurrency protocols with Dai during a time when the Bitcoin protocol was still in active development. But like the alpha versions, those emails are already publicly available. They were published in a blog post in 2014, as part of a larger argument about whether cryptographer Nick Szabo was the true Satoshi.
The man said he would reveal further proof of his identity today, along with further details on the new blockchain project. However, he abruptly cut off communication, and did not respond to further emails or calls.
Other claims made by this “Satoshi” have proven more straightforwardly false. In one email, he claimed prominent Bitcoin investor Tim Draper had met with the SEC as part of the process. Reached by The Verge, Draper denied any such meeting or any broader affiliation with Coin, saying simply, “he is a fake.”
It would not be the first time a Satoshi claim has fallen through. In 2014, Newsweek identified model-train enthusiast Dorian Nakamoto as the Bitcoin creator in a widely disputed article that spurred a lawsuit from Dorian himself. In 2015, Craig Wright also made a contested claim to have invented Bitcoin. It later became clear that he had made a multi-million dollar deal with a Canadian peer-to-peer payment startup premised on his ability to prove that he was the inventor of Bitcoin.
This latest iteration of Satoshi-spotting comes at a time when ICO madness has reached a fever pitch. In 2014, it was undesirable, even perceived as potentially dangerous, to be identified as Bitcoin’s creator. Since late 2015, it has been seen as potentially quite lucrative. With no end in sight for the cryptocurrency hype, there’s a good chance we’ll continue to see more Satoshis emerge.