AP Photo/Nick Ut
Dorian S. Nakamoto smiles during an interview with the Associated Press, Thursday, March 6, 2014 in Los Angeles. Nakamoto, the man that Newsweek claims is the founder of Bitcoin, denies he had anything to do with it and says he had never even heard of the digital currency until his son told him he had been contacted by a reporter three weeks ago. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) Nick Ut/AP
Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto said Thursday that he is not the creator of bitcoin, adding further mystery to the story of how the world's most popular digital currency came to be.
The denial came after Newsweek magazine published a 4,500-word cover story claiming Nakamoto is the person who wrote the computer code underpinnings of bitcoin.
In an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press, Nakamoto, 64, denied he had anything to do with it and said he had never heard of bitcoin 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 defence 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 the relaunch of its print edition after 15 months and reorganization under new ownership.
Since bitcoin's birth in 2009, the currency's creator has remained a mystery. The person — or people — behind the digital currency's inception have been known only as "Satoshi Nakamoto," which many observers believed to be a pseudonym.
Bitcoin has become increasingly popular among tech enthusiasts, libertarians and risk-seeking investors because it allows 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 bitcoin for the same reasons.
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. Bloggers have speculated that bitcoin's creator is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in bitcoin.
House swarmed by reporters
After Newsweek posted the story on its website early Thursday, Nakamoto said his home was bombarded by phone calls. By mid-morning, a dozen reporters were waiting outside the modest two-story home on the residential street in Temple City, Calif., where he lives. He emerged shortly after noon saying he wanted to speak with one reporter only and asked for a "free lunch."
During a car ride – which some media organizations called a “freeway car chase” between Nakamoto and journalists -- 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 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, Japan who came to the U.S. as a child in 1959. 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."
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."
The magazine pulled together its thesis on the creator's identity by matching Nakamoto's name, educational history, career, anti-government bent and writing style to the alleged creator of bitcoin. It also quoted Nakamoto's estranged wife and other family members who said they weren't sure he is the creator.
Several times during the interview with AP, Nakamoto mistakenly referred to the currency as "bitcom," and as a single company, which it is not. He said he's never heard of Gavin Andresen, a leading bitcoin developer who told Newsweek he'd worked closely with the person or entity known as "Satoshi Nakamoto" in developing the system, but that they never met in person or spoke on the phone.
When shown the original bitcoin proposal that Newsweek linked to in its story, Nakamoto said he didn't write it, and said the email address in the document wasn't his.
"Peer-to-peer can be anything," he said. "That's just a matter of address. What the hell? It doesn't make sense to me."
Asked if he was technically able to come up with the idea for bitcoin, Nakamoto responded: "Capability? Yes, but any programmer could do that."
As he pored over the Newsweek story with a reporter, Nakamoto repeatedly said "oh jeez," as he read private details about himself, quotes from family members and even specifics from his medical history.
"How long is this media hoopla going to last?" he said.