Is the U.S. Intel Community Hunting for the Founder of Bitcoin?

Intelligence

Where in the world is Carmen San Diego? Who is John Galt? Where’s Waldo? To this list of burning questions, we must now add “Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?” But if you work for the NSA, you actually may already know him. Who is this mysterious figure?

Satoshi Nakamoto: the Person or Persons Behind Bitcoin

With the creation and massive success of Bitcoin, blockchain technology, and cryptocurrencies, the true identity of its originator has been a topic of speculation for years.  “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the name the creator (or creators) used in the Bitcointalk forum and to publish the whitepaper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” explaining the principles behind Bitcoin. Nakamoto also purchased the domain bitcoin.org and created its website before passing it off and disappearing from sight in 2010.

Adding to the mystery, emails between Nakamoto and Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn were exchanged at least until 2011. In one, Nakamoto states “I’ve moved on to other things” and that he trusted those he left in charge. But what about his massive holdings of the cryptocurrency, totaling in the billions (with a “b”) of dollars? They remain untouched.

satoshi nakamoto isn’t actually satoshi nakamoto

Unexpectedly, if you Google image search “Satoshi Nakamoto,” a picture does pop up. But hold the phone – I thought we didn’t know who Nakamoto is? We don’t. The most famous attempt to find Nakamoto came in 2014 when Newsweek, convinced they had the scoop, doxxed some poor guy in California. The unassuming, older Japanese-American man pictured on Google search does indeed share a name (rather, pseudonym) with the bitoin mystery man. However, Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto was just an out-of-work teacher who had never heard of Bitcoin.

Of course there are many theories to Nakamoto’s true identity. Craig Steven Wright, an Australian computer scientist has taken credit both for inventing Bitcoin and the pseudonym Nakamoto. However, the likelihood that Wright’s “confession” was driven by self-promotion seems more likely.

Another frontrunner is Hal Finney, a CalTech-educated engineer who was the first to person to receive a Bitcoin transaction (from Nakamoto himself, no less). Aside from his brilliance as a coder, Finney’s most suspicious clue is one of geography: for 10 years, he lived in Temple City, CA – the same town as Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. Coincidence?

Sadly, Finney passed away from ALS in 2014. Prior to that, his family was subject to multiple extortion attempts from those who believed him to hold Nakamoto’s Bitcoin fortune. Upon his death, it appears most of his Bitcoin holdings were traded in order to pay for his medical care.

Is the Intelligence community hunting nakamoto?

David Hamilton at CoinCentral reported yesterday that the NSA is using highly complex and classified techniques to identify Nakamoto. He sites the FOIA request of Motherboard writer Daniel Oberhaus to the FBI and the CIA if they “know the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto and if not, what programs exist regarding this task.” Not surprising to anyone who works in national security, the agencies gave the typical spy movie response, “We can neither confirm or deny the existence of the requested documents.”

Hamilton and Oberhaus see this as tacit agreement that there’s a Top Secret hunt for Nakamoto. They also cite NSA attempts to identify him through stylometry. Stylometry examines a person’s writing style to understand their common words and sentence structure. Using Nakamoto’s trail of posts, emails, and blogs, the NSA is theoretically working to identify him. It should be noted that knowledge of this program was due to infamous leaker Edward Snowden, so we might take it with a grain of salt.

Why Should the Intelligence Community Care about Bitcoin’s Founder?

Whoever owns Nakamoto’s identity also owns about a million Bitcoin. Right now, Bitcoin is running at a “low” of about $6,267.50. That means Nakamoto’s stake is about $6,267,500,000. Someone with an immense fortune, world-class technical aptitude, and anonymity is a force to be reckoned with. There is nothing inherently suspicious or subversive about owning Bitcoin. But given the U.S. Government’s built-in suspicion of alternative currencies, intelligence professionals are wise to want to keep tabs on this person. Such a man could be a foreign national, defect to our adversaries, or fund illegal activity on an impressive scale.

Similarly, investigations into Nakamoto were conducted under the Obama Administration, given concerns that the cryptocurrency could disrupt world economic markets and weaken the international strength of the dollar.

Of course, Nakamoto could just be a brilliant, patriotic American playing shuffleboard in Del Boca Vista, waiting to leave his grandkids an epic inheritance. We don’t know. In an amusing twist of fate, it seems despite Dorian Nakamoto’s tumultuous introduction to Bitcoin, he’s now become quite the enthusiast. He’s even been spotted at cryptocurrency conventions with crypto luminaries like Nick Szabo (another alleged Nakamoto). Some conspiracy theorists hypothesize that this was actually Dorian Nakamoto’s master plan of getting to be the face of Bitcoin while still remaining anonymous. But that might be on par with saying aliens shot JFK.

Caroline D'Agati is an Editor for ClearanceJobs based in Washington, D.C. Her background is in public policy, non-profit fundraising, and - oddly enough - park rangering. Though she once dreamed of serving America secretly in the CIA, she's grateful she's gotten to serve America publicly - both through the National Park Service and right here at ClearanceJobs. If you have tips or are interested in contributing to our site, you can email her at caroline.d'agati@clearancejobs.com

More in Intelligence