Andrew O'Hagan on Craig Wright

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Andrew O’Hagan’s account of the six months he spent with Craig Wright is remarkable but - as O’Hagan acknowledges - something still isn’t right here.

Back at the beginning of May, Craig Wright went on record as claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin’s creator. He offered evidence to a series of media outlets, including the BBC. A post on his blog claimed to sign a message using one of the original Satoshi keys. Within hours, his ‘proofs’ had been torn apart as fraudulent, his reputation in tatters.


The story hangs together, but certain details resist scrutiny or explanation

In the London Review of Books, Andrew O’Hagan gives a lengthy account of the preceding six months, during which he spent extensive time with Wright and his business associates. The novella-length article provides detailed and intriguing background, the 90% of the iceberg that lies under the surface to Wright’s superficial claim. Having now taken the time to read this properly, a number of key facts emerge, including:

  • Wright was pressured into the ‘reveal’ by his investors. A group of businessmen had promised to pay off his significant debts and deal with his tax problems on the understanding that he would package up a large number of blockchain-related patents and sell them on to a big company like Google for in excess of $1 billion. Coming out as Satoshi was an integral part of the deal.
  • Wright had access to an early version of the white paper, back in 2008.
  • Wright has a track record of exaggerating to make himself look better, often to his own detriment. ‘He appeared to start with the truth, and then, slowly, he would inflate his part until the whole story suddenly looked weak.’
  • He was elusive when it came to explaining exactly how he and Dave Kleiman, who died in 2013, put together bitcoin - who was responsible for how much and which elements of the project.
  • Kleiman and possibly Wright were very likely involved in serious criminal activity in the past. Both have a connection to Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the Silk Road; Wright claims they never discussed bitcoin in their meetings (which O’Hagan does not believe). Kleiman, himself a drug user, was more involved and may have been one of its architects. There is mention of illegal activity to do with casinos in Costa Rica.
  • Wright kept critical details from O’Hagan and others and refused to give a full account of the creation of bitcoin. At points he apparently told outright lies.
  • He alludes to others who were important or instrumental in the creation of bitcoin. The first transactions went to four addresses, belonging to ‘Hal [Finney], Dave, myself… And another I cannot name as I have no right to do so.’
  • Wright comes across as deeply ambivalent, desperate for recognition but not wanting to be forced to out himself - whilst claiming not to care. He hated being called a fraud but loathed the idea of having to prove he was not lying.
  • A number of high-level bitcoiners, including Andresen, Grigg and Matonis, are convinced he is Satoshi - as are his business partners. Cryptographic evidence they witnessed informs this belief.
  • O’Hagan himself had misgivings, hovering between belief and recognising that something he couldn’t put his finger on was wrong.

It’s a long but well worthwhile read, if you have time. Like O’Hagan, the sense it leaves you with is that the real story is what is not being told here. There is something missing and the narrative as it stands doesn’t quite hang together. Almost, but not quite. It feels like a narrative has been constructed to fit the facts, rather than directly from them.

The best explanation, based on the information to date, is the one O’Hagan himself concludes with. ‘What if you were 30 per cent Satoshi. You were there at its formation and you were part of a brilliant group. You coded and you synthesised other people’s work and you shared in the encryption keys. Then, some time in the last year, you upgraded yourself to 80 or 90 per cent. You were already a lot more Satoshi than anybody else has been hitherto, but the deal, in your eyes, required you to be more and in the end you couldn’t carry that off.’

There’s more to come in this saga, and judging by the news that Wright is filing dozens of patents for blockchain applications, with hundreds more to come, it will no doubt be back in the news sooner rather than later.

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