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Bitcoin Creator's Mysterious Identity Beguiles Cryptography World


Bitcoin users aren't the only ones who are anonymous. So is the creator of the digital currency. There's an alias for the person who might be the inventor - Satoshi Nakamoto. Attempts to figure out his or her real identity have failed. Andy Greenberg, a senior writer with WIRED, is among the many who've been trying to unmask Nakamoto. He and his colleagues recently thought they might have a lead, but he says it's only raised more questions.

ANDY GREENBERG: We were very wary about even embarking on this after watching Newsweek last year attempt to name the creator of bitcoin. And it seems to someone who has been discredited as a candidate. You know, Newsweek names Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, who later said that he had never even worked in cartography, not to mention cryptocurrencies. And then Satoshi Nakamoto himself, whoever that is, posted through a known Satoshi Nakamoto account on a online forum that he was not Dorian Nakamoto, which seemed to disproved that claim.

So you know, this is a question that has beguiled reporters and, in fact, the whole cryptography world for seven years now. And we wouldn't have embarked on it unless we though we had pretty strong evidence. But it seems that we also kind of wondered into a hall of mirrors on this.

CORNISH: So you started to go down the road of saying it was a person named Craig Wright. What pointed you in the direction of this Australian entrepreneur?

GREENBERG: Well, in mid-November, WIRED was leaked a huge cache of documents, including emails from Wright to associates where he had talked about creating bitcoin, accounting documents, a trust agreement where he seemed to be creating a trust of 1.1 million bitcoins. And nobody but Satoshi Nakamoto is know to have so many.

So then we went looking for other evidence, and we found, in Craig Wright's blog, these three posts that talked about the creation of bitcoin. We found a, on an accounting firm's website, a publicly visible document that showed 1.5 percent of all bitcoins at the time being invested by Wright in one company. So all of these very strong signs pointed to Wright as the creator of bitcoin, but we also laid out another possibility in our original story, which was that this could be a very elaborate hoax plans for years.

CORNISH: And we should mention, the Australian Federal Police actually searched Wright's home and office, like, related to, I guess, tax laws. They say that it's not related to bitcoin. But what more have you learned? Why do you think, maybe, now, this, too, was a hoax?

GREENBERG: Well, in our original story, we pointed out, in fact, that these three blog posts that we had found appeared to have been backdated, that Wright himself had inserted them after the fact, we thought, perhaps, to lay some breadcrumbs. Maybe he was conflicted and finally wanted to be revealed as the creator of bitcoin. You know, but that also might have been a sign of a hoax, we noted. In the days after our story, we and other reporters continued to dig into the evidence and found other inconsistencies in Wright's academic credentials that showed that, you know, he may have faked other parts of his resume. And that pretty clearly hints that he may have faked his association with bitcoin's creation as well.

CORNISH: You know, at this point, I think one bitcoin equals roughly $460 U.S. What, to you, is important about who invented the currency? I mean, why does it matter?

GREENBERG: Well, in a certain sense, we're all just curious about who is the genius who created this incredibly intricate and beautifully designed cryptocurrency. But in another sense, whoever created it also seems to be sitting on nearly half-a-billion dollars in cryptocash. That's very real money. In fact, it could be spent, even in ways that are less traceable than traditional currency. So that's a person who has real influence and potential power. And we thought it would be in the public interest to know who that is and how that money might be spent.

CORNISH: Andy Greenberg, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GREENBERG: Well, thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: That's Andy Greenberg, senior writer at WIRED. His reporting about bitcoin is at wired.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.