I’d come here to try to find out more about Nakamoto and his humble life. It seemed ludicrous that the man credited with inventing Bitcoin – the world’s most wildly successful digital currency, with transactions of nearly $500 million a day at its peak – would retreat to Los Angeles’s San Gabriel foothills, hole up in the family home and leave his estimated $400 million of Bitcoin riches untouched. It seemed similarly implausible that Nakamoto’s first response to my knocking at his door would be to call the cops. Now face to face, with two police officers as witnesses, Nakamoto’s responses to my questions about Bitcoin were careful but revealing.
Tacitly acknowledging his role in the Bitcoin project, he looks down, staring at the pavement and categorically refuses to answer questions.
“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
Nakamoto refused to say any more, and the police made it clear our conversation was over.
But a two-month investigation and interviews with those closest to Nakamoto and the developers who worked most frequently with him on the out-of-nowhere global phenomenon that is Bitcoin reveal the myths surrounding the world’s most famous crypto-currency are largely just that – myths – and the facts are much stranger than the well-established fiction.
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.
Standing before me, eyes downcast, appeared to be the father of Bitcoin.
Not even his family knew.
Two weeks before our meeting in Temple City, I struck up an email correspondence with Satoshi Nakamoto, mostly discussing his interest in upgrading and modifying model steam trains with computer-aided design technologies. I obtained Nakamoto’s email through a company he buys model trains from.
He has been buying train parts from Japan and England since he was a teenager, saying, “I do machining myself, manual lathe, mill, surface grinders.”
The process also requires a good amount of math, something at which Nakamoto – and his entire family – excels. The eldest of three brothers who all work in engineering and technical fields, Nakamoto graduated from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, Calif., with a degree in physics. But unlike his brothers, his circuitous career path is very hard to trace.
Nakamoto ceased responding to emails I’d sent him immediately after I began asking about Bitcoin. This was in late February. Before that, I’d also asked about his professional background, for which there is very little to be found in the public record. I only received evasive answers. When he asked about my background, I told him I’d be happy to elaborate over the phone and called him to introduce myself. When there was no response, I asked his oldest son, Eric Nakamoto, 31, to reach out and see whether his father would talk about Bitcoin. The message came back he would not. Attempts through other family members also failed.
After that, Nakamoto disregarded my requests to speak by phone and did not return calls.
“You want to know about my amazing physicist brother?” says Arthur Nakamoto, Satoshi Nakamoto’s youngest sibling, who works as director of quality assurance at Wavestream Corp., a maker of radio frequency amplifiers in San Dimas, Calif.
“He’s a brilliant man. I’m just a humble engineer. He’s very focused and eclectic in his way of thinking. Smart, intelligent, mathematics, engineering, computers. You name it, he can do it.”
But he also had a warning.
“My brother is an asshole. What you don’t know about him is that he’s worked on classified stuff. His life was a complete blank for a while. You’re not going to be able to get to him. He’ll deny everything. He’ll never admit to starting Bitcoin.”
And with that, Nakamoto’s brother hung up.
Nakamoto’s middle brother, Tokuo Nakamoto, who lives near his brother and mother, in Duarte, Calif., said, “He is very meticulous in what he does, but he is very afraid to take himself out into the media, so you will have to excuse him,” he says.
Andresen, a Silicon Valley refugee in Amherst, Mass., says he worked closely with the person “or entity” known as Satoshi Nakamoto on the development of Bitcoin from June 2010 to April 2011.
Communication with Bitcoin’s founder was becoming less frequent by early 2011. Nakamoto stopped posting changes to the Bitcoin code and ignored conversations on the Bitcoin forum.
Andresen was unprepared, however, for Satoshi Nakamoto’s reaction to an email exchange between them on April 26, 2011.
“I wish you wouldn’t keep talking about me as a mysterious shadowy figure,” Nakamoto wrote to Andresen. “The press just turns that into a pirate currency angle. Maybe instead make it about the open source project and give more credit to your dev contributors; it helps motivate them.”
Andresen responded: “Yeah, I’m not happy with the ‘wacky pirate money’ tone, either.”
Then he told Nakamoto he’d accepted an invitation to speak at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters. “I hope that by talking directly to them and, more importantly, listening to their questions/concerns, they will think of Bitcoin the way I do – as a just-plain-better, more efficient, less-subject-to-political-whims money,” he said. “Not as an all-powerful black-market tool that will be used by anarchists to overthrow the System.”
From that moment, Satoshi Nakamoto stopped responding to emails and dropped off the map.
Nakamoto’s family describe him as extremely intelligent, moody and obsessively private, a man of few words who screens his phone calls, anonymizes his emails and, for most of his life, has been preoccupied with the two things for which Bitcoin has now become known: money and secrecy.
For the past 40 years, Satoshi Nakamoto has not used his birth name in his daily life. At the age of 23, after graduating from California State Polytechnic University, he changed his name to “Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto,” according to records filed with the U.S. District Court of Los Angeles in 1973. Since then, he has not used the name Satoshi but instead signs his name “Dorian S. Nakamoto.”
Descended from Samurai and the son of a Buddhist priest, Nakamoto was born in July 1949 in the city of Beppu, Japan, where he was brought up poor in the Buddhist tradition by his mother, Akiko. In 1959, after a divorce and remarriage, she immigrated to California, taking her three sons with her. Now age 93, she lives with Nakamoto in Temple City.
Nakamoto did not get along with his stepfather, but his aptitude for math and science was evident from an early age, says Arthur, who also notes, “He is fickle and has very weird hobbies.”
Just after graduating college, Nakamoto went to work on defense and electronics communications for Hughes Aircraft in southern California. “That was just the beginning,” says Arthur, who also worked at Hughes. “He is the only person I have ever known to show up for a job interview and tell the interviewer he’s an idiot – and then prove it.”
Nakamoto has six children. The first, a son from his first marriage in the 1980’s, is Eric Nakamoto, an animation and 3-D graphics designer in Philadelphia. His next five children were with his second wife, Grace Mitchell, 56, who lives in Audubon, N.J., and says she met Nakamoto at a Unitarian church mixer in Cherry Hill, N.J., in the mid-1980s. She recalls he came to the East Coast after leaving Hughes Aircraft, now part of Raytheon, in his 20s and next worked for Radio Corporation of America in Camden, N.J., as a systems engineer.
“We were doing defensive electronics and communications for the military, government aircraft and warships, but it was classified and I can’t really talk about it,” confirms David Micha, president of the company now called L-3 Communications.
Mitchell says her husband “did not talk much about his work” and sometimes took on military projects independent of RCA. In 1987, the couple moved back to California, where Nakamoto worked as a computer engineer for communications and technologies companies in the Los Angeles area, including financial information service Quotron Systems Inc., sold in 1994 to Reuters, and Nortel Networks.
Nakamoto, who was laid off twice in the 1990s, according to Mitchell, fell behind on mortgage payments and taxes and their home was foreclosed. That experience, says Nakamoto’s oldest daughter, Ilene Mitchell, 26, may have informed her father’s attitude toward banks and the government.
A libertarian, Nakamoto encouraged his daughter to be independent, start her own business and “not be under the government’s thumb,” she says. “He was very wary of the government, taxes and people in charge.”
She also describes her father as a man who worked all hours, from before the family rose in the morning to late into the night. “He would keep his office locked and we would get into trouble if we touched his computer,” she recalls. “He was always expounding on politics and current events. He loved new and old technology. He built his own computers and was very proud of them.”
Around 2000, Nakamoto and Grace separated, though they have never divorced. They moved back to New Jersey with their five children and Nakamoto worked as a software engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration in New Jersey in the wake of the September 11 attacks, doing security and communications work, says Mitchell.
“It was very secret,” she says. “He left that job sometime in 2001 and I don’t think he’s had a steady job since.”
When the FAA contract ended, Nakamoto moved back to Temple City, where for the rest of that decade things get hazy about what kind of work he undertook.
Ever since Bitcoin rose to prominence there has been a hunt for the real Satoshi Nakamoto. Did he act alone or was he working for the government? Bitcoin has been linked to everything from the National Security Agency to the International Monetary Fund.
Yet, in a world where almost every big Silicon Valley innovation seems to erupt in lawsuits over who thought of it first, in the case of Bitcoin the founder has remained conspicuously silent for the past five years.
Characteristics of Satoshi Nakamoto, the Bitcoin founder, that dovetail with Dorian S. Nakamoto, the computer engineer, are numerous. Those working most closely with Bitcoin’s founder noticed several things: he seemed to be older than the other Bitcoin developers. And he worked alone.
“He didn’t seem like a young person and he seemed to be influenced by a lot of people in Silicon Valley,” says Nakamoto’s Finnish protégé, Martti Malmi. Andresen concurs: “Satoshi’s style of writing code was old-school. He used things like reverse Polish notation.”
In addition, the code was not always terribly neat, another sign that Nakamoto was not working with a team that would have cleaned up the code and streamlined it.
“Everyone who looked at his code has pretty much concluded it was a single person,” says Andresen. “We have rewritten roughly 70 percent of the code since inception. It wasn’t written with nice interfaces. It was like one big hairball. It was incredibly tight and well-written at the lower level but where functions came together it could be pretty messy.”
Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 online proposal also hints at his age, with the odd reference to “disk space” – something that hasn’t been an issue since the last millennium – and older research citations of contemporaries’ work going back to 1957.
The Bitcoin code is based on a network protocol that’s been established for decades. Its brilliance is not so much in the code itself, says Andresen, but in the design, which unites functions to reach multiple ends. The punctuation in the proposal is also consistent with how Dorian S. Nakamoto writes, with double spaces after periods and other format quirks.
In the debate between those who claim Nakamoto writes curiously “flawless English” for a Japanese man and those who contend otherwise, writing under both names can swerve wildly between uppercase and lowercase, full spellings and abbreviations, proper English and slang.
In his correspondences and writings, it has widely been noted that Satoshi Nakamoto alternates between British and American spellings – and, depending on his audience, veers between highly abbreviated verbiage and a more formal, polished style. Grace Mitchell says her husband does the same.
Dorian S. Nakamoto’s use of English, she says, was likely influenced by his lifelong interest in collecting model trains, many of which he imported from England as a teenager while he was still learning English.
Mitchell suspects Nakamoto’s initial interest in creating a digital currency that could be used anywhere in the world may have stemmed from his frustration with bank fees and high exchange rates when he was sending international wires to England to buy model trains. “He would always complain about that,” she says. “I would not say he writes flawless English. He will pick up words and mix the spellings.”
Perhaps the most compelling parallel between the two Nakamotos are their professional skill sets and career timeframes. Andresen says Satoshi Nakamoto told him about how long it took him to develop Bitcoin – a span that falls squarely into Dorian S. Nakamoto’s job lapse starting in 2001. “Satoshi said he’d been working on Bitcoin for years before he launched it,” Andresen says. “I could see the original code taking at least two years to write. He had a revelation that he had solved something no one had solved before.”
Satoshi Nakamoto’s three-year silence also dovetails with health issues suffered by Dorian S. Nakamoto in the past few years, his family says. “It has been hard, because he suffered a stroke several months ago and before that he was dealing with prostate cancer,” says his wife, who works as a critical-care nurse in New Jersey. “He hasn’t seen his kids for the past few years.”
She has been unable to get Nakamoto to speak with her about whether he was the founder of Bitcoin. Eric Nakamoto says his father has denied it. Tokuo and Arthur Nakamoto believe their brother will leave the truth unconfirmed.
Calling the possibility her father could also be the father of Bitcoin “flabbergasting,” Ilene Mitchell says she isn’t surprised her father would choose to stay under cover if he was the man behind this venture, especially as he is currently concerned about his health.
“He is very wary of government interference in general,” she says. “When I was little, there was a game we used to play. He would say, ‘Pretend the government agencies are coming after you.’ And I would hide in the closet.”
Nakamoto kept a low profile in part to avoid attention of authorities, Newsweek said, and indeed on Thursday the office of Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services, was keen on speaking with him, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.
BI: How did you use forensic analysis?
LMG: One thing the analysts said to me that was interesting was that they could trace the career path of his brothers but not him — their career paths were pretty straightforward, but with him it was just like a void for quite some time. One of the analysts called it “contextual silence” and considered it a red flag — sometimes it’s an indicator of trying to keep things hidden.
As one of them said, it’s all about eliminating them, finding out why they aren’t the person, and I agree with that. Up until the moment I met him, I prepared for it to not be person at all.
BI: Did you have any qualms about revealing information about such a private guy?
LMG: It was definitely a tough call to say that he lives in California and such, although it’s easy to just Google his name find out yourself. But you don’t want to be a jerk, you don’t want people camped out on his lawn; that would not be desired.
BI: Is there any doubt in your mind that it’s him?
LMG: I don’t have any doubt in my mind, but I am open to new information. For example, if he had helpers whom other people might find. I just don’t think you can ever say the information is complete.
I really wanted to do something in depth, but I have to say I’m kind of looking forward to somebody being able to get something more in depth.
I’m disappointed Newsweek decided to dox the Nakamoto family, and regret talking to Leah.
— Gavin Andresen (@gavinandresen) March 6, 2014
Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto emerged from his home and joined an Associated Press reporter Thursday afternoon after being identified as the founder of Bitcoin by Newsweek.
A video of how Nakamoto chose to speak with the Associated Press was posted on Instagram by Buzzfeed’s Hunter Schwarz.
“I’m not involved in Bitcoin,” he said. “Wait a minute. I want free lunch first. I’m going to go with this guy.”
Nakamoto then proceeded to join the Associated Press reporter before being chased around Los Angeles by a group of journalists.
The reporter took Nakamoto to the Associated Press’ Los Angeles office, where the Los Angeles Times’ Andrea Chang was able to catch up to them and ask Nakamoto if he started Bitcoin. Nakamoto denied creating the cryptocurrency, according to Chang.
— Joe Bel Bruno (@JoeBelBruno) March 6, 2014
— Joe Bel Bruno (@JoeBelBruno) March 6, 2014
The man Newsweek claims is the founder of Bitcoin denies he had anything to do with the digital currency.
In an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press Dorian S. Nakamoto, 64, said he had never heard of Bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a reporter three weeks ago.
Reached at his home in Temple City, Calif., Nakamoto acknowledged that many of the details in Newsweek’s report are correct, including that he once worked for a defense contractor. But he strongly disputes 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.
Nakamoto said he is a native of Beppu, Japan who came to the U.S. when he was 10. He speaks both English and Japanese, but his English isn’t flawless. Asked if he said the quote, Nakamoto responded, “no.”
“I’m saying I’m no longer in engineering. That’s it,” he said of the exchange. “And even if I was, when we get hired, you have to sign this document, contract saying you will not reveal anything we divulge during and after employment. So that’s what I implied.”
“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.
Newsweek writer Leah McGrath Goodman, who spent two months researching the story, told the AP: “I stand completely by my exchange with Mr. Nakamoto. There was no confusion whatsoever about the context of our conversation — and his acknowledgment of his involvement in Bitcoin.”