The Satoshi Affair – Andrew O’Hagan on the many lives of Satoshi Nakamoto

The Satoshi Affair

Andrew O’Hagan on the many lives of Satoshi Nakamoto

The Raid

Ten men raided a house in Gordon, a north shore suburb of Sydney, at 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9 December 2015. Some of the federal agents wore shirts that said ‘Computer Forensics’; one carried a search warrant issued under the Australian Crimes Act 1914. They were looking for a man named Craig Steven Wright, who lived with his wife, Ramona, at 43 St Johns Avenue. The warrant was issued at the behest of the Australian Taxation Office. Wright, a computer scientist and businessman, headed a group of companies associated with cryptocurrency and online security. As one set of agents scoured his kitchen cupboards and emptied out his garage, another entered his main company headquarters at 32 Delhi Road in North Ryde. They were looking for ‘originals or copies’ of material held on hard drives and computers; they wanted bank statements, mobile phone records, research papers and photographs. The warrant listed dozens of companies whose papers were to be scrutinised, and 32 individuals, some with alternative names, or alternative spellings. The name ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ appeared sixth from the bottom of the list.

Some of the neighbours say the Wrights were a little distant. She was friendly but he was weird – to one neighbour he was ‘Cold-Shoulder Craig’ – and their landlord wondered why they needed so much extra power: Wright had what appeared to be a whole room full of generators at the back of the property. This fed a rack of computers that he called his ‘toys’, but the real computer, on which he’d spent a lot of money, was nearly nine thousand miles away in Panama. He had already taken the computers away the day before the raid. A reporter had turned up at the house and Wright, alarmed, had phoned Stefan, the man advising them on what he and Ramona were calling ‘the deal’. Stefan immediately moved Wright and his wife into a luxury apartment at the Meriton World Tower in Sydney. They’d soon be moving to England anyway, and all parties agreed it was best to hide out for now.

At 32 Delhi Road, the palm trees were throwing summer shade onto the concrete walkways – ‘Tailor Made Office Solutions’, it said on a nearby billboard – and people were drinking coffee in Deli 32 on the ground floor. Wright’s office on level five was painted red, and looked down on the Macquarie Park Cemetery, known as a place of calm for the living as much as the dead. No one was sure what to do when the police entered. The staff were gathered in the middle of the room and told by the officers not to go near their computers or use their phones. ‘I tried to intervene,’ one senior staff member, a Dane called Allan Pedersen, remarked later, ‘and said we would have to call our lawyers.’

Ramona wasn’t keen to tell her family what was happening. The reporters were sniffing at a strange story – a story too complicated for her to explain – so she just told everyone that damp in the Gordon house had forced them to move out. The place they moved into, a tall apartment building, was right in the city and Wright felt as if he was on holiday. On 9 December, after their first night in the new apartment, Wright woke up to the news that two articles, one on the technology site Gizmodo, the other in the tech magazine Wired, had come out overnight fingering him as the person behind the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, who in 2008 published a white paper describing a ‘peer-to-peer electronic cash system’ – a technology Satoshi went on to develop as bitcoin. Reading the articles on his laptop, Wright knew his old life was over.

By this point, cameras and reporters were outside his former home and his office. They had long heard rumours, but the Gizmodo and Wired stories had sent the Australian media into a frenzy. It wasn’t clear why the police and the articles had appeared on the same day. At about five that same afternoon, a receptionist called from the lobby of Wright’s apartment building to say that the police had arrived. Ramona turned to Wright and told him to get the hell out. He looked at a desk in front of the window: there were two large laptop computers on it – they weighed a few kilos each, with 64 gigabytes of RAM – and he grabbed the one that wasn’t yet fully encrypted. He also took Ramona’s phone, which wasn’t encrypted either, and headed for the door. They were on the 63rd floor. It occurred to him that the police might be coming up in the elevator, so he went down to the 61st floor, where there were office suites and a swimming pool. He stood frozen for a minute before he realised he’d rushed out without his passport.

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Ramona left the apartment shortly after Wright. She went straight down to the basement car park and was relieved to find the police weren’t guarding the exits. She jumped into her car, a hire vehicle, and, in her panic, crashed into the exit barrier. But she didn’t stop, and was soon on the motorway heading to north Sydney. She just wanted to be somewhere familiar where she would have time to think. She felt vulnerable without her phone, and decided to drive to a friend’s and borrow his. She went to his workplace and took his phone, telling him she couldn’t explain because she didn’t want to get him involved.

Meanwhile, Wright was still standing beside the swimming pool in his suit, with a laptop in his arms. He heard people coming up the stairs, sped down the corridor and ducked into the gents. A bunch of teenagers were standing around but seemed not to notice him. He went to the furthest cubicle and deliberately kept the door unlocked. (He figured the police would just look for an engaged sign.) He was standing on top of the toilet when he heard the officers come in. They asked the youngsters what they were doing, but they said ‘nothing’ and the police left. Wright stayed in the cubicle for a few minutes, then went out and used his apartment keycard to hide in the service stairwell. Eventually, a call came from Ramona on her friend’s phone. She was slightly horrified to discover he was still in the building and told him again to get out. He, too, had a rental car, and had the key in his pocket. He went down sixty flights of stairs to the car park in the basement, unlocked his car and opened the boot, where he lifted out the spare wheel and put his laptop in the wheel cavity. He drove towards the Harbour Bridge and got lost in the traffic.

As Ramona drove along she began texting the mysterious Stefan, who was at Sydney Airport, having already checked in for a flight to Manila, where he lived. Stefan had to make a fuss to get his bag removed from the plane and then he spoke to Ramona, telling her that Wright would have to get out of the country. She didn’t argue. She called the Flight Centre and asked what flights were leaving. ‘To where?’ asked the saleswoman.

‘Anywhere,’ Ramona said. Within ten minutes she had booked her husband on a flight to Auckland.

In the early evening, Wright, scared and lost, made his way to Chatswood. He texted Ramona to come and meet him, and she immediately texted back saying he should go straight to the airport. She’d booked him a flight. ‘But I don’t have my passport,’ he said. Ramona was afraid she’d be arrested if she returned to their apartment, but her friend said he’d go into the building and get the passport. They waited until the police left the building, then he went upstairs. A few minutes later he came back with the passport, along with the other computer and a power supply.

They met Wright in the airport car park. Ramona had never seen him so worried. ‘I was shocked,’ he later said. ‘I hadn’t expected to be outed like that in the media, and then to be chased down by the police. Normally, I’d be prepared. I’d have a bag packed.’ As Ramona gave him the one-way ticket to Auckland, she was anxious about when she would see him again. Wright said New Zealand was a bit too close and wondered what to do about money. Ramona went to an ATM and gave him $600. He bought a yellow bag from the airport shop in which to store his computers. He had no clothes. ‘It was awful saying goodbye to him,’ Ramona said.

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I am in the Christmas spirit and thought I’d give each of you a gift. It truly blessed me. The year of 2018 is going to be rather interesting and contentious in regards to cryptocurrency, regulation, market forces, conspiracy theories, new technologies, politics and socio-economic implementations.

Enjoy and be sure to read the complete essay at the LRB website.
Until Next Time …

Faith Sloan “QueenWiki” “CryptoQueen”
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Queen Wiki

Faith Sloan better known as "Queen Wiki" or "Crypto Queen" is a cryptocurrency enthusiast and trader. She has been a software engineer for 40 years and builds Decentralized Apps (DApps) on the Ethereum blockchain and plays with Tech toys. When she is not teaching, researching and writing about Cryptocurrencies, she's traveling the world and feeding her eating hobby.