The Satoshi Affair

Andrew O’Hagan on the many lives of Satoshi Nakamoto

Andrew O'Hagan watches Craig Wright show Gavin Andresen that he holds the Satoshi key.

The Raid

Ten men raided a house in Gordon, a north shore suburb of Sydney, at 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9 December 2015. Some of the federal agents wore shirts that said ‘Computer Forensics’; one carried a search warrant issued under the Australian Crimes Act 1914. They were looking for a man named Craig Steven Wright, who lived with his wife, Ramona, at 43 St Johns Avenue. The warrant was issued at the behest of the Australian Taxation Office. Wright, a computer scientist and businessman, headed a group of companies associated with cryptocurrency and online security. As one set of agents scoured his kitchen cupboards and emptied out his garage, another entered his main company headquarters at 32 Delhi Road in North Ryde. They were looking for ‘originals or copies’ of material held on hard drives and computers; they wanted bank statements, mobile phone records, research papers and photographs. The warrant listed dozens of companies whose papers were to be scrutinised, and 32 individuals, some with alternative names, or alternative spellings. The name ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ appeared sixth from the bottom of the list.

Craig Wright in the Oxford Circus office.
Craig Wright in the Oxford Circus office.

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[1] John Lanchester wrote about bitcoin and the future of the blockchain in the LRB of 21 April.

[2] Andreas Antonopoulos, a well-respected bitcoin figure, headed a campaign to compensate the 64-year-old Dorian Nakamoto for his trouble. The campaign raised £16,400.

[3] Readers interested in the difference between cypherpunk and cyberpunk and all related matters should start by reading ‘The Cyphernomicon’, a 1994 document by Tim May.

[4] To simplify: it’s a bit like the system used when registering on many web services, when you’re asked to type a specified set of characters into a box. This is ‘proof of work’, something a robot can’t do, and it authenticates the transaction.

[5] Verified Napster use peaked with 26.4 million users worldwide in February 2001, after only two years in existence. The company would only survive in its original form for another five months. Shut down by lawsuits from the likes of Metallica and Dr Dre – in a legal campaign spearheaded by the Recording Industry Association of America – Napster was vanquished as quickly as it appeared, but its short life was well lived. By introducing the concept of peer-to-peer to the world, Napster – and innumerable copycat services – had won the fight the moment they started it. Incidentally – or not – Wright told me he had worked briefly for the RIAA in 2004, doing forensics.

[6] Wright told me the staff didn’t want to be paid in bitcoin. It is worth noting at this point that Wright seems constantly to have been looking for ways to turn his bitcoin into a more useful currency. In one deal, he tried to buy a load of easily convertible gold bullion, and was ripped off. He admitted to me that he had paid a fraudster called Mark Ferrier $85 million in bitcoin and never received the gold.

[7] Around 2008 Wright had been studying for a law degree at the the University of Northumbria and had been reading English newspapers. ‘With my Athens login from the university,’ he said, ‘I was able to access the Times online gratis.’ This might be a good example of Wright’s unnecessary small fibs: online access to the Times was free until July 2010.