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A Brief History of Craig Wright: The Real Satoshi Nakamoto?

The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has been a mystery for well over a decade now, and it’s likely to remain one for much, much longer. There are numerous reasons why the cryptocurrency community and wider public are interested in who’s behind the pseudonym, from wanting to better understand the motivations behind Bitcoin, to simply wanting to know what kind of person it was that birthed an entirely new technology (and finance) sector.

Well, if you listen to certain people, the question of who Satoshi Nakamoto is hasn’t been a mystery since late 2015. This was when Australian entrepreneur Craig S. Wright was first mooted as the creator of Bitcoin, along with American computer forensics analyst Dave Kleiman (who had passed away in 2013). However, while Wright publicly came forward in May 2016 as the elusive Nakamoto, his claims have been hotly disputed ever since.

This article provides an overview of these claims and constructs a timeline of how they were presented, and also contested. And while it doesn’t seek to solve the mystery of who Satoshi Nakamoto is (or isn’t), it clearly sets out the arguments and evidence Craig Wright has used to support his position.

Is Craig Wright the anonymous person behind Bitcoin?

December 2015: Craig Wright Outed As Likely Satoshi Nakamoto Candidate

Back in December 2015, Wired ran a report in which two of its writers concluded, “WIRED has obtained the strongest evidence yet of Satoshi Nakamoto’s true identity. The signs point to Craig Steven Wright […] Either Wright invented bitcoin, or he’s a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did.”

Wired’s conclusion at the time was reportedly based on documents leaked by “an anonymous source close to Wright” to Gwern Branwen, a pseudonymous, independent security researcher and dark web analyst. Branwen then forwarded these documents to Wired, which summarized them as follows:

  • An August 2008 post on Wright’s blog mentioning his intention to release a “cryptocurrency paper.”

  • A post on the same blog from November 2008 that mentioned a PGP public key which (according to the database of the MIT server where it was stored) was associated with the email address, an email address very similar to the address Nakamoto used.

  • An archived copy of a now-deleted blog post from Wright dated January 10, 2009, which reads: “The Beta of Bitcoin is live tomorrow.”

  • A PDF in which Kleiman agrees to take control of a trust fund, codenamed the “Tulip Trust,” containing 1.1 million bitcoins.

  • A cache of leaked emails and transcripts that make reference to “distributed ledgers” and discussions between Wright and Dave Kleiman regarding Wright investing in hundreds of computer processors to “get [his] idea going.”

December 2015: Wired Casts Doubt On Its Own Reporting

Even within the above article, Wired’s journalists qualify their reporting with a huge caveat:

“The unverified leaked documents could be faked in whole or in part. And most inexplicably of all, comparisons of different archived versions of the three smoking gun posts from Wright’s blog show that he did edit all three — to insert evidence of his bitcoin history.”

Later that very same month, the tech publication ran a new story which concluded that Wright “may be a hoaxer.” Other outlets also ran skeptical pieces, including the New Yorker.

In particular, Wired (and other publications) found evidence of untruths, with third parties contradicting claims made by Wright. This included claims that Wright’s Cloudcroft company owned a supercomputer built by SGI (which SGI denied), as well as claims that Wright had obtained a PhD from Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, Australia (the university quickly denied this).

May 2, 2016: Craig S. Wright Publicly Declares Himself ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’

Back in December 2015, Wright hadn’t directly responded to reports that he may (or may not) be Nakamoto. However, on May 2, 2016, he published a blog post in which he claims to be Bitcoin’s founder. He also gave interviews to the BBC and the Economist prior to the blog’s publication, with the latter outlet writing, “he could well be Mr Nakamoto, but that nagging questions remain.”

In supporting his claims, Wright “digitally signed messages using cryptographic keys created during the early days of Bitcoin’s development,” according to the BBC. However, a number of developers, cryptographers and security researchers rejected this ‘proof’, explaining that Wright simply copied a signature used by Nakamoto that had been publicly available.

A Tweet about Craig Wright

Source: Twitter

May 5, 2016: Wright ‘Backs Out’ of Providing Further Proof

Barely a few days after his big reveal, the BBC reported Wright as having “reneged on a promise” to move some of the bitcoin originally mined by Satoshi.

Wright had published a blog (now apparently deleted) in which he said did “not have the courage” to endure any more of the criticisms that would apparently follow his attempts at providing further proof.

2017: nChain Emerges to Build ‘Bitcoin Core Competitor’

In spring 2017, details emerged of nChain, a blockchain company Wright had founded. Reuters revealed that it had been acquired by private investors, while it committed to developing a non-Segwit Bitcoin pool. It also applied for a number of patents and set about building a “Bitcoin Core competitor.”

Wright’s speeches from this period made no effort to substantiate his claims regarding Nakamoto’s real identity, although some observers quoted him as threatening to sue anyone who claims he wasn’t Bitcoin’s original creator.

As reported by Vice in October 2017, Wright had by this point become a firm advocate of Bitcoin Cash, which forked from Bitcoin in August 2017. (Bitcoin Cash itself would fork into two on November 15, 2018, with Wright personally favoring offshoot Bitcoin SV.)

February 2018: Dave Kleiman’s Estate Sues Wright

A lawsuit was filed in Florida in February 2018 by the estate of Dave Kleiman’s, Wright’s former business partner.

Kleimna’s estate claimed that Wright had “forged and back-dated a number of documents,” in order to make it appear that Kleiman (who died in 2013) had signed away his share of up to 1.1 million bitcoin the pair had jointly mined.

May 2019: Wright Files for Copyright of Bitcoin White Paper

Wright celebrated filing US copyright registrations for the original Bitcoin white paper, with CoinGeek (which is affiliated with Wright and nChain) claiming that the US Copyright Office had received “confirmation from Wright that he is Satoshi Nakamoto.”

Despite this, many pointed out that the filing simply meant that “Wright [had] filled in an online form.” Conversely, it “does not mean the US Government certifies Craig Wright as the creator of Bitcoin.”

December 2021: Court Finds Wright Not Liable for Breach of Kleiman Business Partnership

A federal jury decided in December 2021 that Wright and the late Dave Kleiman weren’t in a business partnership. Accordingly, the court decided that Kleiman’s estate wasn’t owed a share of the putative partnership’s assets, which allegedly included around 1.1 million in bitcoin.

Wright had promised to reveal proof that he’s Satoshi Nakamoto, but so far no such proof has been forthcoming.

January 2022: Wright Fails in Bid to Throw Out Legal Case Claiming Forgery

The United Kingdom’s High Court rejected a bid by Wright to throw out a case brought against him in early 2021 by the Crypto Open Patent Alliance, an association founded by Jack Dorsey’s Square and featuring Coinbase and Meta as members.

The case alleges that Wright forged documents cited in the original Wired article from 2015, with Wright’s failure to halt the case meaning it will go ahead at some point in 2023.

August 2022: Wins £1 in Libel Case

Wright had sued popular Bitcoin podcaster Peter McCormack in 2021, with a judgment in August 2022 awarding him damages of only £1.

The judge deciding the case, Justice Chamberlain, concluded that many of the remarks made by McCormack — who had called the Australian a fraud — had damaged Wright’s reputation. However, because Wright had “advanced a deliberately false case and put forward deliberately false evidence” (including claiming that he had been disinvited to conferences to which he’d never submitted any papers) the damages were nominal.

Who knows where it goes from here but it seems likely that the Wright/Satoshi Nakamoto saga will continue to drag on for years to come.

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CryptoVantage Author Simon Chandler

About the Author

Simon Chandler

Simon Chandler is a journalist based in London. He writes about technology, markets and politics, and has bylines for Forbes, Digital Trends, CCN, Wired, TechCrunch, the Verge, the Sun, the New Internationalist, and TruthOut, among many others. His Twitter handle is @_simonchandler_

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