This story has been enhanced with artificial intelligence-generated visualisations from Midjourney.
While the world mourns Queen Elizabeth II, a wartime monarch beloved by the nation, a little know court case is going on in Oslo, Norway, that stands to be no less disruptive for the citizenry of the internet.
As judge Helen Engebrigtsen recounted when the case started on Monday:
“A judgment in this case will not establish beyond a reasonable doubt if Dr Craig Wright is Satoshi. Whether Dr Craig Wright is or is not Satoshi will support the case, however.”
The legal tangle, which is scheduled to conclude hearings on September 21, centres around a request by Magnus Granath, better known as Hodlonaut on Twitter, to determine that the campaigning Tweets he published from March 2019 onwards calling out Australian Craig Wright as a fraud, were not defamatory of Wright. Wright, a prolific litigant who asserts he is the author of the 2008 Bitcoin white paper, is counter-claiming for damages arising from Granath’s publications.
According to Wright’s PR team, Granath coordinated a campaign of harassment and disparagement against Dr Wright’s legitimate claim to be “the inventor of Bitcoin (BSV), the world’s first functioning and successful electronic cash system.”
To that end, and to build the case that he is indeed Satoshi, the court heard from Friday from Wright’s maternal cousin, Max Lynam, a former wing-commander in the Australian forces.
Did You Know About Craig Wright’s Japanese Wartime Codebreaking Relative? No, Neither Did We.
On Friday, Lynam’s testimony drew attention to the fact that Craig Wright hailed from a technological family which included Ronald Andrew Lynam, Wright’s maternal grandfather, who had once worked in Australia’s equivalent of Bletchley Park cracking Japanese wartime codes.
None of this was entirely new news. Don Lynam, Wright’s uncle, had already testified to that effect in the Kleinman estate‘s 2020 suit against Wright. That case had been brought to a Florida jury by the brother of Dave Kleiman, a man Wright admits to having interacted with before publishing the bitcoin white paper. The Kleiman estate was at the time pursuing rights to Satoshi’s 1.1m bitcoin fortune on the basis the two had been partners. But the Florida jury found that while Wright did owe $100mn in intellectual property rights to W&K Info Defense Research LLC, a vehicle that both Kleiman and Wright were beneficiaries of, he did not owe half of the known Satoshi fortune to Kleiman’s family estate as demanded. Both sides considered the outcome as corroborating Wright’s Satoshi claim.
The nature of Ronald Lynam’s work during the war became clear during the trial. According to Lynam, Ronald had been a senior figure in the international intelligence community who played an instrumental role in the Allies’ Coral Sea victory, with direct connections to the UK’s secret code-cracking base at Bletchley Park.
As fascinating as all this was, however, none of it made it into mainstream news in 2020. By then Wright’s reputation had been more than tarnished by a high-profile failure in 2016 to prove that he was Satoshi using cryptographic techniques, despite promising to do so. This had led a large part of the bitcoin community to dismiss him as an elaborate hoaxer diminishing public interest in his legal disputes.
And yet, if Max Lynam’s sworn testimony from the original case is to be believed — and there is no reason why it should not — Wright’s heritage might explain more about bitcoin than almost anything else.
On Friday Lynam once again repeated the same assertions under oath, adding that the Lynam/Wright family had generations worth of military and civic service and that as a family they felt a sense of purpose to “do the right thing and step up when we’re called upon to try and help protect democracy and protect people who can’t protect themselves”. He himself was a graduate of Australia’s Royal Military College at Duntroon.
According to the former Signals man, enthusiasm for technology and codebreaking had been passed down through the family all the way to Wright who, having been detached from his own father due to family divorce, became incredibly close to his Lynam Snr.
As Lynam noted in Friday’s testimony:
“Craig would go to his grandfather’s place often to be minded, and would spend a lot of time with his grandparents there. And also, my father being into electronics and computers – and a similar type personality to my grandfather and Craig. He was sort of adopted as another paternal figure for Craig as well. And as he was actively serving in the defence force at that point in time, Craig had an affiliation, both with my grandfather’s previous service and my dad’s service and had a lot of exposure to that.
Myself, I lived with my father, so I got it directly from my dad, but I would also spend time being exposed to my grandfather and his background in technology and also with his service in the Philippines and working with MacArthur and the Pacific Fleet and the codebreaking cryptography and so forth that happened back then — these were all stories that happened when I went and visited basically every holiday, when my parents would send me up to stay with my grandparents.”
Lynam’s own background included a stint as an officer with the Australian Signals Corp in Watsonia, where, according to Friday’s testimony, he spent time in defence Intelligence, secure communications, data and logistics as well as finance and fleet control. This, according to Lynam, was “basically the same area where my grandfather was working during the Second World War”.
Also relevant, but not brought up in Friday’s testimony, are Wright’s supposed claims that David Rees, a mathematician and cryptographer who had worked directly for the UK government at Bletchley Park, had been a friend of his grandfather’s as well as an influence on his own bitcoin work.
Online sourcing for these claims are limited and bizarre. But one hit delivers the following assertion:
Those close to Wright have suggested it may have been thanks to Rees’ influence and supervision that the Satoshi white paper was as eloquent as it was. Wright’s writing skills have thus far failed to impress on the same level. Rees died in 2013 at the age of 95 meaning he can never testify to or confirm these claims. Rees’ family, meanwhile, has denied the associations.
To date, Rees’ Wikipedia profile bears only a single reference to Craig Wright’s assertion that the two had known each other. The provenance of the reference, however, is unclear. All we know from the page history is that it was added on August 27, 2019, by an unregistered user with a Brussels IP address with no other editing history on the platform.
When Plausible Deniability Becomes a Liability
The hunt to uncover the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has been going on ever since the cryptocurrency first began to acquire value circa 2012.
In that time a number of names have been circulated as potential possibilities: Adam Back, Nick Szabo, Elon Musk, Hal Finney or a wider group made up of all of them. None have ever confirmed the speculation it was them.
Those seeking Satoshi’s true identity have thus resorted to numerous techniques and strategies to get to the bottom of the mystery, including forensic analysis of Satoshi’s written messages, papers and communications for stylistic clues and traits to point them in the right direction. Such analyses often highlight Satoshi’s penchant for using a blend of English and American spellings. Some say the trait implies a Transatlantic grouping must be responsible for the paper. Others that whoever wrote the paper was highly skilled at covering their tracks by frequently switching phrasings.
Despite the early attempts, it wasn’t until 2014 that the search for Satoshi took a significant turn. On June 6, Newsweek published a high-profile piece by investigative reporter Leah McGrath Goodman, alleging Satoshi may have been hiding in plain sight all along. The article laid out the case that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese-American living in California, 64 at the time, was the best fit yet for the inventor of Bitcoin.
Not only did Dorian, a retired physicist and model train enthusiast, possess many of the necessary security and technical skills, he had also worked on classified projects for the US military and other military-industrial complex players. And yet, when asked about being Satoshi, he too denied the association.
The rejection of the claim came as welcome news to the crypto community who had not taken kindly to the idea Dorian could really be Satoshi. It would have been too much of an anticlimax to find out Satoshi Nakamoto wasn’t really a pseudonym.
For the most part, things then went quiet on the Satoshi hunt. Until December 2015. A mysterious “dossier” full of legal files at that point found its way to journalists at Gizmodo and Wired. The documents pointed to the possibility that an Australian security expert called Craig Steven Wright and a deceased former US law-enforcement officer called Dave Kleiman could be the duo behind the Satoshi team. As to who leaked the dossier, we don’t know to this day.
What happened next led to one of the strangest media spectacles of all time. A spectacle I myself played a small part in.
“You Don’t Always Get the Satoshi You Want, You Only Get the Satoshi You Need”
Just as with Dorian, the diehard libertarian-leaning bitcoin community immediately found it hard to accept that someone like Craig Wright could be Satoshi.
To their mind, the creator of the anonymous “censorship-resistant” electronic money had to be more of a Julian Assange figure — someone intent on pushing back against state authority, obsessed with maximising freedom and committed to protecting privacy at any cost. Wright was none of these things. In fact, he despised Julian Assange, telling the FT’s Jemima Kelly and me in April 2019 in a fitful rage that “the guy is a fucking treasonous piece of scum” and that “he basically works for the Russians.”
No. Wright was as far removed from Assange as anyone could be. An arrogant and cantankerous computer and security expert, with a penchant for ancient history, cults and Christian preaching. This was no hoodied cyberhero. This was a man who was happy to work with anyone, from intelligence agencies to gambling tycoons. He was “James Bond gone bad” not some idealistic activist intent on saving the world from a surveillance society.
To boot, Wright’s Twitter profile picture — before he deleted his account — even depicted him in black tie.
None of this made sense to the faithful. As might be expected, their disappointment soon combobulated into a ferocious and spiteful online backlash.
Faced with mass criticism and a pile-on, Wright’s first inclination, however, wasn’t to defend himself. Like a spy caught out in the cold among his enemies, the Australian programmer’s instinct was to take cover and go dark. But, of course, the more he refused to speak to the press, the more the mystery deepened. And the more time his critics had to debunk his credentials and online footprint. This they did pretty effortlessly because Wright’s history was littered with inconsistencies, post-facto amendments and off ambiguities. It was, as some might say, exactly the sort of profile you would expect from a man who had led a double life. Either as a con man. Or a spy.
As time went on, with no word from Wright, the world soon settled down to the idea that they might never know Satoshi’s true identity. But things were not to stay that way for long.
It was around March 2016 that I myself got pulled into the story.
It all started with a tip-off from a trusty source that Craig Wright was about to have a change of heart and come out officially as Satoshi. But Wright was not going to do this in any ordinary way. He and his team — a mysterious troupe of deep-pocketed backers — were in the process of planning a grand media spectacle, encompassing the London School of Economics, the BBC and GQ Magazine, to ensure as seamless a conversion of the masses as possible.
To that end, I was told, Wright’s handlers had hired some very slick PR management people. They had been using some very heavy-handed tactics to ensure anyone touching the story (specifically the journalists) would maintain their silence until the “big reveal” during a week in April, while complying with all their respective demands. This included pressure to sign non-disclosure agreements — not the usual way journalism is done.
Unbeknownst to me, Andrew O’Hagan had already been given exclusive access to for many weeks now and was writing for the London Review of Books.
Finally, I was told, cryptography experts were also being brought in to sign off on Craig Wright’s technical proofs in a bid to generate public trust in his assertions.
The sheer audacity of the operation made it all feel highly inauthentic. To my mind, it seemed clear that there must be a second less visible layer to the story. The fact that Craig Wright had handlers at all seemed weird in its own right.
None of this was very bitcoin. Not least the bit about asking the public to trust in the testimonies of experts.
If Wright really was Satoshi, why go to this larger-than-life weapons-grade propaganda exercise? Why try so hard to capture hearts and minds? There was no integrity in such actions. It all felt rather odd.
The Precasting Tell
As a journalist with a tip, my immediate inclination was to report out the story by getting more sources. Luckily for me, it didn’t take too long to get secondary confirmation from someone who had also been approached by the “big reveal” team. Their story matched the other version I had heard, and so it seemed right to go with the story. My reveal of the “big reveal” was published on March 31
The internet’s response was divided. Many in the crypto community didn’t know what to make of it. Some thought it dubious. Others dubbed me a fantasist.
Eventually, April came and went with no sign of any spectacle. Had I got it wrong? Had I too been set up?
Not entirely. The story was right. The big reveal had not been cancelled just delayed until May 2. As anticipated by my story, both the BBC and GQ Magazine published the assertion Wright was Satoshi in tandem. In the process, they revealed they had been privy to exclusive access for a while. Joining them too was the Economist.
Things, however, didn’t go entirely as planned.
Wright’s team had persuaded Jon Matonis, an economist and one of the founding directors of the Bitcoin Foundation, as well as Gavin Andresen, chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, to technically endorse Wright’s claim.
But their personal testimonies had gone down like a lead balloon with the predictably distrustful and cynical cryptocurrency community. Actual cryptographic proof — via the signing of a bitcoin transaction with a known Satoshi key — was what had to be delivered to convince the masses. In the days to come, Wright promised to deliver it. Until, at the final hour, he backtracked, saying he did not have courage to proceed further with the claims.
The optics of this, to say the least, were not good.
Knowing what we know now, Wright’s TV interview with Rory Cellan-Jones also seemed a good indicator of Wright’s far from trustworthy nature. “I will never ever be on a camera again,” he told the broadcaster that day in May. That, of course, has not proven to be the case.
Given subsequent events I figured it would make sense to check in with Jon Matonis to see if his stance on Wright had changed. He told me he had not seen Wright for years. “My one thought on the matter is that you don’t always get the Satoshi you want, you only get the Satoshi you need,” he said.
Whether Wright’s family connections to Bletchley Park can change popular perception or influence judgments in the current case against Magnus Granath is yet to be determined. On paper, they do sound impressive. Upon closer inspection, however, they rely somewhat too heavily on legitimating him through the reputations of those who are no longer with us. The fact that Hal Finney and Dave Kleiman are dead too doesn’t really hinder Wright either. As they say, you can’t libel the dead. Which means, de facto, there’s nothing stopping anyone appropriating their identities – a trick long used by those inclined to engage in the murky world of forged and faked documentation.
Nor should it go unnoticed that Wright told the Oslo court in the Granath case that he has since stomped on the hard drive that contains the “key slices” needed to access Satoshi Nakamoto’s private keys. This he said makes it “incredibly difficult” to cryptographically prove he is the creator of Bitcoin, which means other mechanisms will have to be used instead. While that sort of behaviour isn’t necessarily out of the norm for those on the autistic spectrum — a condition Wright has had specialists attest to him having in court –it’s still all a little too suspicious in its convenience.
Which begs the question just who is Craig Steven Wright? And who are the people behind him? Are the bodyguards he is known to go around with there for his protection? Or is he more of a Britney Spears type figure, entrapped and forced to do things by handlers — like some sort of victim of human trafficking? Wright’s history in the gambling sector also deserves further scrutiny. As too does his matey relationship Calvin Ayre, the man behind the online gambling Bodog empire. Who exactly is leading who and why?
So far, when it comes to Craig Wright, none of us are really any wiser.
The FT’s exposure of Germany’s Wirecard fraud has recently proven that larger-than-life hoaxes in the digital payments industry can make sense. This is especially the case if the alternative to not doubling down on a big lie is accidentally exposing the degree to which historic revenues have been dependent on illicit or controlled activities or collaboration with the world’s clandestine services.
In hindsight, it feels meaningful that the role I played in scuppering Wright’s “big reveal” echoes the new intelligence practice of pre-leaking (or precasting) information to influence the present and/or to create a Kobayashi Maru situation. This is where your opponent is left with no possible winning move. It’s indicative of a certain familiar playbook in the story.
For now, Craig Wright remains a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Given there’s an awfully thin line these days between a con man and an intelligence asset, the fact Craig Wright’s past has an awfully large number of mutually shared components seems to me some noteworthy. Here’s just a few shared traits:
1) A strategically placed leaked dossier? – CHECK
2) Casinos? – CHECK
3) Cryptography and cyphers? – CHECK
4) Family connections to the military? – CHECK
5) Contempt for Russians? – CHECK
6) Shadowy handlers? – CHECK
7) A dodgy legend/bio? – CHECK
8) Trillions of dollars at stake? – CHECK
9) Surveillance? – CHECK
10) So much plausible deniability you can’t actually prove anything? – CHECK
At the end of the day, there are only three possibilities. Craig Wright is either the inventor of bitcoin, a hoax or an elaborately positioned decoy by parties unknown for purposes unclear.
(An earlier version of this story noted that it was Don Lynam, Craig Wright’s uncle, who testified in the Oslo court case when it was Max Lynam his cousin.)