Around 1:30 p.m. today, the reporter who revealed the identity of Bitcoin’s creator, “Satoshi Nakamoto,” saw a tweet saying: “I will be posting Leah McGrath Goodman’s full home address and personal license plate in 30 minutes. Fair is fair.”
Less than eight hours after her blockbuster Newsweek cover story identifying the creator of Bitcoin as a 64-year-old Japanese-American model train enthusiast who changed his name to Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto from Satoshi Nakamoto 40 years ago was published, McGrath Goodman has become the target of countless nasty tweets and an object of hate on Reddit’s well-trafficked r/bitcoin forum.
Some have accused her of exposing Nakamoto to violence by posting a picture of his home in Temple City, Calif.
“This was not meant to be hostile,” McGrath Goodman told BuzzFeed today. “I think some people saw this as an act of war.”
“I have to say that because I care about the family, I hate to see people saying that this guy could end up in trouble or be the subject of violence. There are wealthy people and they’re not not in the phone book. The idea that you can invent something and be successful and that it’s dangerous and you could be murdered is really repugnant. I worry about people saying it. That being said at all just turns my stomach.”
McGrath Goodman said that the search for Satoshi Nakamoto began only two months ago. With the help of two forensic analysts, Sharon Sergeant and Barbara Mathews, she searched through everything posted by Satoshi Nakamoto and then looked for someone named Satoshi Nakamoto in public databases. “One thing I found interesting was that a lot of amazing journalists I look up to, instead of looking for his name, looked at all the coders in the world who might have done it.”
Using the approach of going through public records to find someone who could be Nakamoto meant McGrath Goodman avoided getting stuck trying to match well-known coders and academics who would seem to possess the technical knowledge and interests of Nakamoto to the person or group of people who wrote the original Bitcoin paper in 2008.
Others had speculated that the creator was George Washington University researcher Nick Szabo, Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki, or a group of software developers.
She described three eureka moments on her path to the fateful confrontation with Nakamoto in his driveway where he told her, “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it.”
The first was when she noticed that the author of the 2008 paper had used British and American spellings: “We found that was something Dorian Nakamoto did. That was the first thing, they have the same name and very similar spelling quirks.”
The second was learning more about his political ideology. Nakamoto’s daughter said that he had told her to “not be under the government’s thumb.” She told McGrath Goodman, “He was very wary of the government, taxes, and people in charge.”
“It’s how he writes and how he thinks, and it really matches up,” McGrath Goodman said.
And the final confirmation before speaking with Nakamoto came from his brother, who had described his technological background, saying, “He’s a brilliant man. I’m just a humble engineer. He’s very focused and eclectic in his way of thinking. Smart, intelligent, mathematics, engineering, computers. You name it, he can do it.”
McGrath Goodman also said that in her interviews with Nakamoto’s family and associates she would ask them to “please tell [her] information that precludes this from being him.” And they couldn’t tell her anything that did.
She also said that the team of forensic analysts she worked with would regularly try to find out why a suspect they had wasn’t Satoshi Nakamoto.
When she finally confronted him, she was “open all the way up to when I talked to him for him to say, ‘No, this is ridiculous,’” she told BuzzFeed. “He was completely clear in his statement that he didn’t want to talk about it. He wasn’t angry, he just really didn’t want to have any conversation about it.”
McGrath Goodman asked him, “If you have any reason to tell me that this is wrong, that it’s not you, you have to tell me now.”
Instead, he said, “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it.”
Update — 8:15 PM E.T.: Dorian Nakamoto told the Associated Press that he did not invent Bitcoin and that he had never heard of it until his son had told him about it three weeks ago.
Correction: The piece originally misquoted McGrath Goodman as saying Satoshi Nakamoto “was angry.” It has been corrected to say that “He wasn’t angry.”