Dr. Craig S. Wright’s upcoming court battle with the brother of his late friend and colleague Dave Kleiman puts Bitcoin’s creator in a no-win situation—one that has nothing to do with control over the world’s largest stash of BTC.
On November 1, a Florida court will at long last commence the proceedings sparked by Ira Kleiman’s 2018 civil lawsuit against Dr. Wright. Ira accuses Wright of improperly acquiring hundreds of thousands of BTC tokens that are known to have never moved from Ira’s brother Dave, whom Wright has credited with early assistance in Bitcoin’s development.
Dave died alone in his home in April 2013 following a lengthy battle with a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. Dave spent most of his final years in a Veterans Administration hospital before abruptly discharging himself against his doctors’ orders, telling a friend that his medical advisors could “go fuck themselves.”
Following Dave’s death, Wright reached out to Dave’s friends and family, alerting them to his and Dave’s involvement in a number of technology ventures. Ira quickly convinced himself that these activities included the pair jointly mining Bitcoin in the technology’s very early days, resulting in a purported cache of 1.1 million unsplit BTC (currently worth around US$70 billion).
Ira has accused Wright of trying to cheat Dave’s estate out of his share of these BTC, while Wright’s camp has accused Ira of irresponsibly handling storage devices on which some of Dave’s digital assets likely resided, possibly rendering them unrecoverable. Federal Judge Beth Bloom has been tasked with determining which party’s story appears closer to the truth and who may owe what to whom.
The Write stuff
What doesn’t appear up for discussion is Wright’s identity as Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous author of the Bitcoin white paper. Wright has credited Dave with helping him edit the white paper’s early drafts, leading some would-be crypto cognoscenti—along with some committed Wright antagonists—to speculate that it’s Dave who ultimately deserves the Satoshi mantle.
Wright has acknowledged that his original white paper text benefited from Dave’s organizational skills and attention to detail, once claiming that Dave “could edit his way through hell and back.” Wright has also revealed that both he and Dave shared public commenting duties through Satoshi’s two recognized email accounts.
But Wright has been equally emphatic that Dave lacked the necessary coding chops to make a meaningful contribution to Bitcoin’s digital foundation. This hasn’t always sat well with Dave’s defenders but seriously irks Wright’s critics, who gleefully propagate any narrative that questions Wright’s claim on Bitcoin’s origin story.
The irony here is that Wright will be questioned under oath regarding the extent of Dave’s involvement, putting him in the awkward position of having to publicly denigrate the abilities of his longtime friend and question some of the decisions that contributed to Dave’s demise. At the very least, Wright will likely feel conflicted by the need to tarnish Dave’s legacy in this fashion, given that Wright has publicly stated that he “wouldn’t be sane or whatever else without [Dave].”
Breaching the digital divide
Wright and Dave first crossed paths in the mid-2000s, bonding over a shared interest in cryptography, cybersecurity and other related fields. Despite their relative positions on opposite ends of the world, Wright and Dave developed a close friendship, with Wright joking that the pair collectively “helped fund long-distance communications” by chatting for hours at a stretch.
As they grew closer, they began to collaborate on a number of fronts, including co-authoring a 2008 scientific paper on overwriting hard drive data. Wright praised Dave as a reliable editor of his solo efforts, which Wright suggests often suffer because “my document management is shit.”
Wright and Dave also collaborated on an online gambling software operation that used the centralized digital currency service Liberty Reserve as a financial conduit. Repatriating the funds held on Liberty Reserve was less of a problem for Wright than Dave, as the latter’s homeland took an extremely dim view of its citizens’ involvement in online gambling businesses.
This ultimately led to tensions between Wright and Dave, with the latter becoming increasingly cost-conscious as his medical expenses accumulated. A 1995 motorcycle accident had left Dave wheelchair-bound for the rest of his days, but his physical wellbeing began a precipitous decline as the MRSA infection took hold.
While Dave continued to work from his hospital bed, Wright had been transferring funds to Dave to pay additional coders that were required to further other business endeavors. Wright says Dave told him he was hiring these coders via the infamous Silk Road darknet marketplace, leading Wright to suspect that Dave was also purchasing illicit drugs, including opiates and cocaine, via Silk Road to deal with his rising pain levels.
In the months immediately preceding Dave’s death, he sent Wright a series of emails claiming that “things are a little tight” and that “I cannot spend all I need to live on using Bitcoin alone.” Dave also sought to reassure Wright regarding Dave’s use of Silk Road, saying the online marketplace “is not all drugs you know.”
The shortage of readily available cash led to friction between the two friends, and Wright later said that he and Dave had argued in early April 2013. Regrettably, that acrimonious conversation turned out to be the last time Wright spoke to Dave, who died on April 26.
A wound that will not heal
Wright has been disarmingly frank about the role Dave played in his life, particularly given Wright’s autism spectrum disorder, which by Wright’s own admission makes normal social interaction an uphill slog.
Anyone who doubts the sincerity of Wright’s feelings toward Dave need only consult the former’s tribute to the latter in a blog post written shortly after Dave’s body was discovered. Wright praised Dave’s strength and resilience following his accident, while also crediting Dave with being “my sounding board and in some ways my muse. Whenever I became stuck Dave would help me step through the issues until we came up with a solution.”
But to get a proper sense of what Dave meant to Wright one needs to listen to the latter’s spoken tribute, posted to YouTube around the same time. It’s impossible to deny the pain in Wright’s voice as he relates that “no matter what, and through it all, Dave has been a friend. When I’ve been down, he’s been there. When I’ve needed someone, he’s been there… Dave wanted to make the world a better place. And he wasn’t here for a long time. But in that time, Dave made the world a better place. He made my world a better place. I’m proud to say Dave was my friend. I’m proud to say I knew Dave. And I say, I’ll miss you, Dave.”
The best cookies for the best of friends
To all the cynics who will argue that the sentiments expressed above are just part of Wright’s apparent decade-long effort to gaslight the world in support of his Satoshi claims, consider that Wright’s affection for Dave was more than reciprocated.
In 2008, Dave responded to a thread Wright started in an online security research forum by informing members that “for those of you who have never asked for Craig’s help, you do not know what you are missing.” Dave went on to cite numerous instances in which Wright provided voluminous research assistance “for no other than [sic] reason than he just likes to research information, and possibly considers me a friend from afar.”
Dave referenced one particular time that he sought info on “dealing with abilities of cookies on the server side.” Along with the “100’s of pages and links of information on that subject, and variations and ideas I had not even or forgotten to consider,” Dave’s in-box received a recipe for “the world’s BEST cookies,” with a recommendation to use dark chocolate for optimal results.
Evidently cognizant of Wright’s status as a self-described “autistic savant with poor social skills,” Dave sought to dismiss some of Wright’s more strident forum critics by listing a number of historical figures that were in their day also “considered ‘loons,’” including “Feynman, Hawking, Sagan, da Vinci, Einstein, Columbus, everyone associated with Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Dave Kleiman’s input may not have played a crucial role in Bitcoin’s creation, but Dave was nonetheless an American hero, a man whose service to his country was honored by being named U.S. Army Soldier of the Year at the tender age of 21. His post-Army career with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office was equally notable and even his 1995 accident couldn’t stop him from earning the rank of detective. Regardless of the level of assistance he provided Wright in creating Bitcoin, Dave’s honorable legacy is assured.
If Wright is a character from the Grail movie, our bet is on him being one of the French knights who taunts Arthur’s men from the parapets of Castle Aarrgh. As such, regardless of the Kleiman trial’s verdict, Wright can probably be counted on to fart in Ira’s general direction. It’s the least Ira deserves for forcing Wright into the unenviable role of speaking ill of a long-lost friend and colleague.
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