LOS ANGELES – The man Newsweek claims founded bitcoins denied he had anything to do with the digital currency.
In an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press, Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, 64, said he had never heard of bitcoins until his son told him he had been contacted by a Newsweek reporter three weeks ago.
Nakamoto acknowledged that many of the details in Newsweek’s report are correct, including that he once worked for a defense contractor, and that his given name at birth was Satoshi. But he strongly disputed the magazine’s assertion that he is “the face behind bitcoin.”
“I got nothing to do with it,” he said, repeatedly.
Newsweek stands by its story, which kicked off a relaunch of its print edition after 15 months and reorganization under new ownership.
Since the birth of the bitcoin in 2009, the currency’s creator has remained a mystery. The person — or people — behind its founding have been known only as “Satoshi Nakamoto,” which many observers believed to be a pseudonym.
After the story was posted on Newsweek’s website early Thursday, Nakamoto said his home was bombarded by phone calls. By midmorning, a dozen reporters were waiting outside the modest two-story home on the residential street in Temple City, California, where he lives. He emerged shortly after noon from his home saying he wanted to speak with one reporter only and asked for a “free lunch.”
During a car ride and then later over sushi lunch at the AP bureau in downtown Los Angeles, Nakamoto spoke at length about his life, career and family, addressing many of the assertions in Newsweek’s 4,500-word piece.
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, Oita Prefecture, who came to the United States 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 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.”
Some bitcoin enthusiasts said they were skeptical that Newsweek had found the right person. Others said they were furious that the news media would try to violate his privacy.
“I would have thought every Satoshi Nakamoto on planet Earth had already been contacted and ruled out,” said Stephen Pair, the chief technical officer at Atlanta-based BitPay, a payment processor. “If this person is the real Satoshi, it would be easy . . . for him to prove it if he wanted to.”
Jeff Garzik, one of the core developers on the bitcoin software protocol and an employee of BitPay, said “the ‘real’ Satoshi” can prove his identity only through cryptography.
“We will know Satoshi by his digital signatures,” Garzik said in an email, adding that the founder could either sign a message using his unique encryption key or make use of the bitcoins that the creator is known to have kept.
Adam Draper, chief executive officer of Boost, a San Mateo, California, company that incubates bitcoin startups, called the Newsweek article “intrusive” and said he’s unconvinced.
“If Satoshi Nakamoto wanted to be anonymous the whole time, why would he use his real name on the paper?” Draper said. “He always used nontracking emails and did everything he could to stay anonymous, so it’s difficult for me to understand why he would use his real name.”
Bitcoins have become popular among tech enthusiasts, libertarians and risk-seeking investors because they allow people to make one-to-one transactions, buy goods and services and exchange money across borders without involving banks, credit card issuers or other third parties. Criminals like bitcoins for the same reasons.
For various technical reasons, it’s hard to know just how many people worldwide own bitcoins, but the currency attracted outsize media attention and the fascination of millions as an increasing number of large retailers such as Overstock.com began to accept it.
Speculative investors have jumped into the bitcoin fray, too, sending the currency’s value fluctuating wildly in recent months. In December, the value of a single bitcoin hit an all-time high of $1,200. It was around $665 on Thursday, according to the website bitcoincharts.com.