The mystery man behind bitcoins remains an enigma, despite a Newsweek cover story “outing” Dorian S. Nakamoto as the inventor of the crypto-currency.
Nakamoto, whom the newsweekly identified by his given name, Satoshi Nakamoto, later told the Associated Press he has nothing to do with bitcoin, a digital currency that has no physical form and lacks any ties to a country. And even the programmers at the Bitcoin Foundation, a group of developers and advocates that's as close to an authority as possible for the currency, said it did not believe the 64-year-old Nakamoto was THAT Nakamoto.
“We have seen zero conclusive evidence that the identified person is the designer of bitcoin,” wrote Jeff Garzik, a member of the Bitcoin Core Dev Team. “Those closest to the bitcoin project, the informal team of core developers, have always been unaware of Nakamoto’s true identity, as Nakamoto communicated purely through electronic means.”
'Those closest to the Bitcoin project, the informal team of core developers, have always been unaware of Nakamoto’s true identity.'
- Jeff Garzik, a developer with the Bitcoin Foundation
“There’s never a dull moment in bitcoin,” he noted wryly.
Bitcoin has become wildly successful in the past year, with everyone from football teams to food shops announcing plans to accept the digital currency. It has also seen massive failures, as prices rose and fell like the plot twists in a potboiler. Yet beyond the name “Satoshi Nakamoto,” the identity of the man who invented it has never been concretely established.
Widely circulated stories have said a genius kid in Tokyo came up with the concept. Not so, wrote Leah McGrath Goodman in a cover story for the recently re-launched Newsweek magazine.
“Far from leading to a Tokyo-based whiz kid using the name ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ as a cipher or pseudonym (a story repeated by everyone from Bitcoin's rabid fans to The New Yorker), the trail followed by Newsweek led to a 64-year-old Japanese-American man whose name really is Satoshi Nakamoto. He is someone with a penchant for collecting model trains and a career shrouded in secrecy, having done classified work for major corporations and the U.S. military,” Goodman wrote.
Nakamoto, who lives in the foothills of Los Angeles, called the cops on Goodman when she showed up at his door.
"I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it," he said, according to Goodman. "It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."
But once outed, Nakamoto loudly denied his involvement -- following a bizarre freeway chase by national and international reporters, and a free lunch at a local sushi joint.
In an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press, Nakamoto, 64, denied he had anything to do with it and said he had never heard of bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a Newsweek reporter three weeks ago.
Nakamoto acknowledged that many of the details in Newsweek's report are correct, including that he once worked for a defense contractor, and that his given name at birth was Satoshi. But he strongly disputed the magazine's assertion that he is "the face behind bitcoin."
"I got nothing to do with it," he said, repeatedly.
He also said a key portion of the piece -- where he is quoted telling the reporter on his doorstep before two police officers, "I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it" -- was misunderstood.
"It sounded like I was involved before with bitcoin and looked like I'm not involved now. That's not what I meant. I want to clarify that," he said. "How long is this media hoopla going to last?"
The rollercoaster ride may not be over yet. Mt. Gox, a Japanese company that is the world’s largest exchange of bitcoins, filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of February, announcing a massive theft of several hundred million dollars worth of the digital currency.
The bitcoin market had been tumultuous before that, with exchange rates soaring and collapsing by tens or even hundreds of dollars per day. The stress of the industry may be one reason behind the mysterious death of 28-year-old Autumn Ratke, CEO of U.S.-based bitcoin exchange First Meta.
The explosion in popularity of the coin made early investors like Nakamoto instantly wealthy. Goodman interviewed Bitcoin's chief scientist, the 47-year-old Gavin Andresen. Another early investor, he has done well by bitcoin.
"I made a small investment in bitcoin and it is actually enough that I could now retire if I wanted to," Andresen told Newsweek. "Overall, I've made about $800 per penny I've invested. It's insane."
The Bitcoin Foundation said “Satoshi Nakamoto,” whoever he is, is responsible for the creation of something unique -- whether or not his secret identity is firmly pegged down.
“The bitcoin protocol would not exist without Satoshi, who is without question a brilliant designer. However, bitcoin will endure well past Satoshi, as bitcoin is everyone who uses it, not just one person,” Garzik wrote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.