Financial cryptographer Ian Grigg wanted to help protect Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin, without knowing who that person was. He figured that anyone in favour of the libertarian politics of the community loosely called cypherpunks around 2012 ought also to believe that Satoshi should be allowed to stay anonymous if that was their choice. (Ian believed Satoshi was a group of people, albeit led by one key individual.)
In the second of a two-part interview for this week’s CoinGeek Conversations, Ian explains he was concerned that an attention-seeking U.S. government prosecutor might bring charges—perhaps for running Bitcoin as an unlicensed money services business or for money laundering. If that happened, it would produce “a very odd situation where Satoshi has invented something of fantastic potential benefit to the world. And here’s some prosecutor who’s figured out how to make a career winning move. And he’s going to destroy these people.”
Ian’s first idea was to nominate Satoshi for the Turing Prize—after checking that there was nothing in the rules to say that a nominee must have a known, conventional identity. There was strife in the crypto world at the time between BTC, Ethereum and other groups but, Ian said, “just that little symbol brought together a bunch of enemies in the field who agreed that this was a good thing to do.”
As a result of Ian’s work, “one of the team contacted me.” She didn’t reveal her link with Satoshi, but she seemed to be under a lot of stress, “like they were living in a pressure cooker.” Ian wondered about the Satoshi connection, but “all I had was this crazy person talking to me, and this person knew quite a lot of stuff. So I was interested.”
They continued to communicate online until Ian “pretty much convinced myself, ‘yes, OK, I’m talking to the Satoshi team now.’” But his correspondent wasn’t telling him: “She was definitely keeping that secret. But I waited and waited and waited. And eventually she said, ‘You’ve got to meet Craig. He’s, you know, he’s a good guy.’”
This led to a meeting with Dr. Craig Wright in a London pub, where Ian unobtrusively put Craig through his Satoshi paces: “I actually threw a bunch of test questions at him. Not that they sounded like test questions, but they were tests that I constructed in my mind, three of them, and each one he just sailed through.”
Nothing was said on either side about Craig being Satoshi. But Ian felt the clincher was in a slightly abrupt response from Craig that he believes revealed more than Craig had intended.
As they were parting, Ian told Craig that he and a group of his friends were trying to help Satoshi by publicly offering support and arguing against the unmasking of Satoshi: “And I asked him directly, ‘can you help me?’ And he said ‘no, I can’t help you.’ And it was so direct, it was so immediate that I realised he was revealing himself in that answer because I caught him in having to say directly, no, he can’t help that—because he is Satoshi.”
Nothing more was said that night, but later, corresponding with the Satoshi associate who had set up his meeting with Craig, Ian says he “managed to get [her] to reveal the full story. And then we were OK after that.”
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