Earlier today, Leah McGrath Goodman reported she’d found the creator of Bitcoin.
We reached out to McGrath Goodman to hear how she did it. Below is a Q&A, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Business Insider: What interested you about this story?
Leah McGrath Goodman: I was wondering why no one wanted to know who it was, at least among the fanbase in Bitcoin. There’d always been a lot of talk, just a cult following of this man, but without knowing who he was. I was really surprised when Gavin Andresen, the Bitcoin developer, said he hadn’t received that many questions about what it was like working with him, about who this guy was.
There are so many articles about how Bitcoin works, its ingenious nature mechanically, the bitcoin mining, the proof of work. The engineering is a thing of admiration, but very little was known about the person behind it. Being curious allowed me to care.
BI: How did you figure out Satoshi Nakamoto was not a pseudonym?
LMG: I couldn’t find why it seemed like everyone had accepted it was a pseudonym; that was an issue to me. When I first talked to people who’d worked with him, I asked whether he would use a nom de plume … That seemed to be something very few people had looked into. I looked into what had led where, and this lead really kept going … a lot of others were dead ends.
BI: How did you employ forensics to help on the story?
LMG: We were really confused about British spellings, it looked very chameleotic. The paper itself — the first time I read it, I wasn’t a Bitcoin follower — didn’t seem to have anything to do with what I’d seen in the press about him — he didn’t seem like a young guy in his 30s at all.
BI: How many other potential candidates did you pursue, and how did you use forensic analysis?
LMG: I looked at a lot, but there weren’t a lot who seemed compelling for very long — it was clear their background or level of expertise didn’t match, any number of things, that didn’t work.
Because of his age, a number of places he worked didn’t have much information. He had an unclaimed bank account with NorCal [the defunct telecom giant], an AmEx card there, but their back office is very poor.
The main thing when matching up the person was with some writing, that was first breakthrough. I noticed, for example, depending on the audience or perceived audience, the tone could change, if it was more casual, he would use a lot more abbreviations, but if it was more formal, like a letter to a newspaper, there would be much more, and there would be full spellings.
This was a team effort, with other researchers working with me frequently who were good at forensic analysis in ways that an investigative journalist doesn’t know about.
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 straight forward, 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 moment I met him, prepared for it to not be person at all.
BI: What happened when you got to his house? (Note: In the article, McGrath Goodman says that the only thing Nakamoto would say is, “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.”)
LMG: I let him know I was coming, I did all I could to be really open. When I did come, I left him a Bitcard [a Bitcoin gift card — ed.] endorsed by Gavin. I came back two hours later, knocked on the door, and he called the cops.
But when they got there they said, ‘Oh what did you want to say?’ I said, ‘I want to talk to him about Bitcoin,’ and it turned out they wanted to hear what he had to say — they were just like ‘Oh really!’ It ended up that I was able to ask a few things…It was his response to me that made it clear — if I weren’t the founder I’d be like, ‘That’s very amusing, I run a bagel shop.
Every journalist, we want to show up and and find the thing no one else found first, and have them congratulate you and have them say ‘Come in, let me make you a drink!’ It wasn’t the most satisfying thing, the fact couldn’t have a conversation beyond a brief one.
BI: What impression of him were you left with?
LMG: This man is kind of mysterious to even his own family, not just the developers. I didn’t report everything they said — but in many ways he could be mystifying to people close to him.
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 that 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 kind of looking forward to somebody being able to get something in depth.
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