"By the claw, the lion is revealed." - Johann Bernoulli, 1697
In mid 1696 Johann Bernoulli challenged the finest scientific minds in Europe to send him the answer to what sounds like not a particularly hard physics problem. Imagine, he wrote them, you are standing on top of a hill holding a bowling ball. At the bottom of the hill, quite a distance away, are the 9 pins. What shape would the hill have to be to maximize the speed at which the bowling ball would roll down the hill and hit the pins?
It sounds like there should be a common sense answer here. Balls roll down hills, time only flows in one direction, etc. etc. But alas, the laws of gravitation are not so kind. It turns out that this is actually a fiendishly difficult math problem involving a dark art called The Calculus of Variations. In 1696 they hadn’t even gotten around to inventing the regular “The Calculus” yet, let alone its variational cousin. Six months passed and no one managed to answer Bernoulli’s mathematical provocation.
By the Button, the Substack is Revealed.
It turns out that the delay was actually more the fault of the mail system than a failure of human intellect. Bernoulli’s letter did not reach Isaac Newton for 6 months, whereupon Sir Isaac, a man so brilliant that he invented calculus as sort of a footnote to inventing Physicks but also apparently a man so fragile that he never recovered from the psychological trauma of seeing a woman’s pubic hair, took out his quill, huffed some quicksilver and just… Wrote Down The Answer… It took him less than a single day.
Bernoulli, in a letter to a colleague about the anonymous solution and condescending shitposthe had just received in the mail, explained that he knew it was Newton. “Tanquam ex ungue leonem,” he wrote. “By the claw, the lion is revealed.” Bernoulli was certain of the provenance of the proof because there was no other human being walking the earth who could have answered the problem using the approach Newton took, to say nothing of the incredibly condensed timespan.
. I bring it up to try to convey my intellectual and emotional response to reading a certain wikipedia page for the first time a few months ago. Bennett Tomlin had made an offhand comment on Crypto Critics Corner about how some guy named Paul Le Roux was his favorite candidate for the identity of the anonymous bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. Being vaguely curious about all mysteries, especially multi-trillion dollar mysteries that persist for decades, I typed “Paul Le Roux” into my browser…
I bring up this anecdote not to draw connections between renaissance scientists in ridiculous wigs and the modern day crypto bro scam artists plaguing us like locusts
サトシ ナカモト (SATOSHI)
Satoshi Nakamoto, for those who somehow don’t know, is the cryptocurrency crowd’s Messiah or Godot. Start with the fact that he invented their favorite thing in the world (cryptocurrency). Then consider that no one has ever figured out who he actually is, a mystery dramatically compounded by the fact that he just... vanished a decade ago, leaving a pile of Bitcoins currently priced at somewhere between $10-20 billion dollars behind in the early blocks of the now world famous Bitcoin Blockchain where it has sat completely unmolested for the last 10 years. Satoshi's anonymity, Croesus level personal crypto-wealth, apparently unrivaled dedication to the HODL, and Amelia Earhart moves have combined to make him into a cypher onto which the HODLers can project everything theoretically good and bad about bitcoin in particular, cryptocurrency more generally, and humanity itself in the wide view.
Put another way: he is a god to them.
The man is the closest thing to a prophet (at least in terms of the impact his teachings have had on his followers) we’ve seen since L. Ron Hubbard sailed the scammy seas of Scientology. Bitcoin white papers and assorted planning notes from decades ago have been turned into what amounts to holy writ. Ideas Satoshi spouted that no one had ever bothered to think before because they were stupid and unworkablebecame conventional wisdom. His most casual Usenet and email list comments were combed to create a book of “wisdom” for his followers to study. And finally, much like King Odysseus, King Satoshi’s throne room has been plagued with pretenders in his absence. At this point conclusively unmasking Satoshi’s real identity would be the cryptosphere equivalent of proving Jimmy Hoffa was scheduled to be the second gunman in the JFK assassination but had to cancel because his comrade Bigfoot had gotten himself into a situation over in Roswell.
THE KNOWN KNOWNS
Let’s list what we know for absolute certain about the man, the myth, and the legend of Satoshi. It will be a short list.
He has political ideas that trend towards libertarianism if not outright anarchism. Not exactly unusual for a privacy zealot but IMHO a very important aspect of this case. (A kinder interpretation might be that he doesn’t like banks; after all he embedded a note about the 2009 bank bailouts into The Genesis Block (see above).)
He’s probably from a commonwealth country. Spellings like “analyse”, “colour”, “defence”, etc. are not used by Americans (though of course Satoshi could intentionally use such misleading spellings).
He disappeared suddenly in April 2012. No one has heard from him since. He also has never used any of his ~700,000 to 1,000,00 BTC in the past decade.
He’s an exceptionally talented programmer with a deep knowledge of cryptographic implementation. This is critical.
I want to stress to those readers who have not worked in a technical field that the fact that the Bitcoin network has never (or at least not since the very early days) suffered a catastrophic breach is nothing short of a fucking miracle. Bitcoin has been up and running for almost 14 years now. In the vast majority of that time it has neither crashed nor has it been hacked or had any other catastrophic failure. This despite being (at the time) a newtechnology and despite the network being subjected to more rogue hacking attempts than probably any other man made institution. Apple and Google get hacked every month. Ethereum had to fork the chain after a massive breach. Most of crypto is a dumpster fire of fraud, theft, and terrible code. Hell Binance’s blockchain, designed and run by a conglomerate of players including Coinbase and others, got hacked for $100M+ less than a week ago. And they had the benefit of observing many blockchain implementations “in the wild” for over a decade when designing and building their system.
But Bitcoin? It’s like the Energizer bunny. It just keeps working, cranking through 5 to 10 transactions per minute at a rate that would impress any dark ages scribe tasked with copying the Bible by hand and in cursive. Understanding how impressive a feat Bitcoin has turned out to be is important because it really narrows the field as far as who could be Satoshi. This is why most of the serious candidates for Satoshi are genius level computer science researchers. Bitcoin was not the work of an amateur. In fact I would go so far as to describe the skills of whoever wrote the code that powers the Bitcoin network as borderline superhuman. We are talking a skill level achieved by probably less than a thousand people walking the earth at this moment.
Enter Paul Le Roux.
MASTER CRIMINAL MIND
As wikipedia pages go Paul Le Roux’s entry is an absolute 10 out of 10, 5 star, Must See TV piece of work. Besides being almost undoubtedly the longest wikipedia entry I’ve ever encountered about someone whose name I had never even heard prior to the moment of clicking, the content is absolutely breathtaking. Prior to reading it I had never imagined that such an utterly amoral, living, breathing testament to the dangers of reading too much Ayn Rand too soon in life had ever walked the earth. Because, you see, Le Roux started adulthood as a man who wrote widely used, groundbreaking tools to enable every day people to encrypt their own data before moving on to his real career as a kingpin in the international underworld, running a multinational criminal enterprise of staggering proportions.
I sell the man short - Le Roux was in charge of not one but many multinational criminal enterprises. The organizations the man builtsold weapons to Iran and Somalia, smuggled tens of thousands of gold bars out of the Philippines, pillaged the resources of innumerable African countries, and (of course) sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of drugs. All kinds of drugs. Inventing the modern institution known as The Shady Online Pharmacy did not prevent Le Roux from simultaneously moving tons (literally) of methamphetamine out of North Korea. In the process he bent the governments of small countries to his will, built up a small army of mercenaries and assassins, and murdered a whole bunch of people. And that’s just the stuff we know about. (If you want to know more, Evan Ratliff wrote an excellent book about Le Roux called The Mastermind.)
“It’s obviously him” I thought. “He’s the only one who makes sense.”
There’s 3 things police look for when investigating a crime: motive, method, and opportunity. I propose that of all the candidates that have been floated as possible Satoshis, Le Roux was the only person on the planet who had them all. And in spades.
I’m not going to rehash all the facts in favor of Le Roux being the creator of Bitcoin in detail in this post. I encourage you to read some of the reporting and discussion on the possibility that has burbled up through the years on various media outlets of both highand low repute. Personally I’d be convinced even without most of that evidence, though there is one bit of information that is critical to my case that you will read in those sources.
GRAPHING THE CRYPT
In the early days of nuclear grade cryptographic weaponrymoving out from sketchy IRC channels and into the mainstream there was a tool called TrueCrypt. Some of us are even old enough to remember using it. I am one of those people.
In the days before FileVault TrueCrypt was basically the thing every Mac owner who was responsible/sophisticated enough to actually encrypt their hard driveused to, well, encrypt their hard drive. As all the reporting on the Le Roux/Satoshi connection will tell you, Paul Le Roux was the brains behind, if not TrueCrypt itself, then definitely E4M, its precursor. This is not a matter of conjecture, it is a fact is supported by all kinds of tax documents, court filings, and other unquestionable evidence.
Most knowledgeable people think that Le Roux was also at least one of the people behind TrueCrypt, E4M’s successor. The reporting focuses on the shared code, the technological similarities, and other aspects of the TrueCrypt/E4M relationship. We don’t have the evidence to conclusively prove TrueCrypt’s provenance because - wait for it - TrueCrypt was developed by a team of anonymous, highly skilled, cryptographically sophisticated engineers who chose to give their work away for free. To this day no one has identified anyone who built this bedrock security technology of the late 2000s/early 2010s. Thus protestations like this one from the TrueCrypt team should be taken with a hefty grain of salt - if Le Roux was indeed on the team, he certainly wouldn’t have wanted the world to know about it.
Sound familiar? There are obvious fact pattern similarities to the Bitcoin Genesis Story. But what I haven't seen reported - and what I find ultimately one of the most compelling pieces of the puzzle - is the intangible, ephemeral aspect. The feel of TrueCrypt. Maybe the HODLers are too young, maybe only freaks like me had Macs and linux machines back then, who knows. Either way I’m here to tell you this: TrueCrypt was weird. Like really fucking weird.
I remember only two things about the experience of being a TrueCrypt user:
It worked incredibly well. You installed it, made sure not to forget your password/cryptographic key, and that was it. The whole operation was basically invisible. Given the delicate nature and high cost of failure inherent in what the TrueCrypt executable was actually doing (encrypting and decrypting the data on your hard drive on the fly as you needed to read it or add to it) this invisibility indicated a very high level of engineering skill. Put another way, TrueCrypt and E4M were the work of exceptionally talented programmer(s) with a deep knowledge of cryptographic implementations.
The TrueCrypt installer forced you to read all this… stuff. Long and bizarre streams of information, advice, and disclaimers that seemed to me at the time to be the product of a level of paranoia just a few degrees shy of a personality disorder diagnosis. Encryption, the installer preached, was basically your only defense against the looming New World Order. But it wasn’t an automatic process. You had to Take Steps. Develop Awareness. TrueCrypt wasn’t a silver bullet but it was a critical tool that could help protect you. From whom, you may ask?
Sure, threats from hackers and criminals get a mention. But The Government was clearly the focus. TrueCrypt, the installer informed you, would probably hold up when the government’s jackbooted thugs inevitably started pulling out your fingernails as they asked you to divulge your cryptographic pass phrases. But even if TrueCrypt’s encryption was defeated the installer authors were full of Advice. And you had to read this stuff. I forget the exact mechanism but you couldn’t just click “OK”. I don’t even think you could just scroll to the bottom and then click “OK.” Clicking through EULA screens in installers is not usually memorable. In fact I would posit that it is never memorable. But this was memorable. And maybe more importantly it was political.
EYEBROWS WILL RISE
Perusing the original TrueCrypt documentation will give you an idea what I’m talking about, but for those not wiling to sort through 100 pages of highly technical documentation for a long obsolete encryption product, here’s some highlights.
THE HIDDEN OPERATING SYSTEM
I have never before or since heard of encryption software that hides a secret, doubly encrypted, invisible operating system inside your already weapons grade encryption secured primary encrypted storage. TrueCrypt didn’t just offer the feature - they spent many, many pages in the documentation telling you a) how to use the feature and b) why you should use this feature.
Who, pray tell, is the target market here? “Plausible deniability” isn’t a feature you need when you are concerned about hackers swiping your bank account and credit card information. In fact quite the opposite.
Note first of all that there is no conditional here. It’s not “if” a shadowy adversary asks you to mount your encrypted drive, it’s “when”. Second of all I want to point out that if the word “adversary” appears in the Microsoft Word or Apple Music EULA I guarantee you they are talking about lawyers, not jackbooted CIA thugs.
Not so with TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt’s EULA is … creepy.
MOTIVE, METHOD, AND MAXI
We know from the history of TrueCrypt that Paul Le Roux was the rare human being in 2008 who had both the skills as well as the anti-government zealotry to attempt something like Bitcoin. But I’m sure he wasn’t the only one - privacy zealots and cryptographers are an ornery bunch with lots of ideas weirder than libertarianism. So let’s discuss the final piece: motive.
Building something like Bitcoin is a tremendous amount of work. Most people who could even think of something like it would probably stop there, at the theoretical stage. So it may be helpful to ask yourself a question: What obstacles would the life of a possible Satoshi have encountered around 2008 that would have made the idea of Bitcoin so appealing that they would decide to actually create it?
Go look at Paul Le Roux’s resume again. The man ran an international crime syndicate involving dozens of countries or more. Different international criminal syndicates may each be different in their own way but there is one characteristic we know for 100% certain that they all share: they all move money across borders. That’s what the “international” part of “international criminal enterprise” means.
Some of them get the money from drugs, some from illegal logging or wildlife poaching, others from government corruption - the list goes on. Some, like Paul Le Roux, get money from all of the above. But no matter where it comes from and where it’s going that money has to cross a border at some point. A border staffed by governments that are, for reasons both absolutely heroic and purely maleficent, very interested in large amounts of money going from one side to the other.
What if there was, say, a kind of money that existed purely on the internet? That never needed to be turned into garbage bags full of cash and/or deposited into a bank that touches the international banking system? That was anonymous and that could be moved at low cost relative to the expected large transaction size? That could not be seized by governments because the transactions were irreversible?
You see where I’m going with this. The point is that of the already very small group of people with the skills (~500-1,000) and the politics (~1-15% of that 500-1,000, so we’re down to the 5-150 humans range) to attempt something like Bitcoin, there was no one with the kind of motive Paul Le Roux had. “Necessity is the mother of invention” as they say. Most of the other Satoshi candidates are computer science professors with cushy jobs at fancy universities - not exactly the kind of background that would push someone into devoting their life to building a reserve currency for the global criminal underworld and (hopefully) overthrowing The Government.
Paul Le Roux? The utility would have been painstakingly obvious to him every time he bribed an official in Guinea Bissau, faced regulatory sanctions in South Korea, or fled another country with an American extradition treaty.
THE COFFIN AND THE NAIL
I’d believe Le Roux was probably Satoshi just given the above fact pattern. But now take a look at the fake passport above as you consider this timeline:
March 2012: DEA raids one of Le Roux’s businesses and turns the owner into an informant against Le Roux.
SolotshiSatoshi sends his last email
September 2012: Le Roux is arrested in Liberia
Billions of dollars worth of Bitcoin has been sitting in Satoshi’s wallet since 2012, totally untouched. Not a single sathas moved in over 10 years.
What kind of person gets handed tens of billions of dollars and never touches it for 10 years? No one has hands that diamond-like.
Unless, of course, they’ve spent those 10 years in a federal supermax facility.
I’ll leave you with the above list of other similarities compiled by CoinDesk, as well as a rhetorical question: Why is it that both Paul Le Roux and Ross Ulbricht ended up killing people (or trying to) less than a decade after starting their libertarian journey? Almost seems like libertarianism may be a brain disease whose side effects may include becoming a murderer. And if you are truly hardcore I will leave a link to the code for Le Roux’s original encryption project E4M in a Github repo I assembled that includes all of E4M’s revisions.
UPDATE January 2nd 2023
On December 13th 2022 someone used encryption keys belonging to Hal Finney, the long deceased recipient of the first ever Bitcoin transaction and IMHO the only viable candidate for Satoshi not named Paul Le Roux, to send a message to Martin Shkreli. Putting aside for a second obvious questions like “who has Hal Finney’s keys?” and “why would they choose to send a message to Martin Shkreli?” here is the contents of the message.
We know the following things:
This message is cryptographically verifiable. In other words the cryptographic keys that were used to receive the first ever Bitcoin transaction are guaranteed to be the same keys that were used to encrypt this message. The only alternative explanations are that there is some core theoretical bug in the encryption techniques that undergird the entire internet or P is actually equal to NPand the person who has solved the most famous unsolved hypothesis in computation theory chose to use their breakthrough to forge a message to Martin Shkreli.
Hal Finney died of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) after a long illness. He knew he was going to die for quite a long time before he finally actually died. I have read in a few places that Hal made it known he had made arrangements to transfer his keys to his heirs.
Hal Finney’s wife reactivated Hal’s Twitter account 3 days after this message was sent. It had been dormant for 12 years. At a minimum this is very interesting timing.
The list of people who might credibly claim to know who Satoshi Nakamoto is or was is a very short list… but Hal Finney’s wife is definitely on it.
By the Button, the Substack is Revealed.
He actually didn’t talk about bowling balls, he spoke of glass beads or something similar. But I think bowling balls are easier to picture for the less theoretically inclined readers, so I went with it.
Calculus had at this point been invented for quite some time, but Leibniz and Newton were both cagey fuckers who kept their sorcery secret for literally decades before telling the world about it. Not coincidentally Leibniz and Newton were 2 of the 5 people who managed to solve the bowling ball on the hill problem.
Perhaps then it is unsurprising that, along with the proof which he mailed back anonymously, Newton sent Bernoulli a note about how continental European “scientists” should probably STFU and go back to having sex with their goats or staying poor or whatever it was that the rabble on continental Europe liked to do - but please, all you goatfuckers, stop wasting my time. ("I do not love to be dunned and teased by foreigners about mathematical things” was the exact phrasing.)
Newton admittedly had a big advantage, having invented the entire field of mathematics into which this problem fell years prior to Bernoulli’s challenge.
Astute observers may have already noticed that the modern era’s Do “Have Fun Staying Poor” Kwon, much like Isaac Newton before him, liked to belittle his critics, was briefly placed in charge of the money supply, and lost the bulk of his fortune in an economic mania partially of his own devising. Maybe Do Kwon really is a genius.
(easily one of the best informed people on the internet when it comes to cryptocurrencies)
Depends who you ask.
In a very real sense Satoshi is the ultimate HODLer.
AKA Cryptocurrency “investors”
Note that I’m not trying to imply Satoshi was a stupid person who only had unworkable ideas. I’m just saying that the way some of his less well thought out offhand comments tossed off on mailing lists have become like, wisdom for the ages doesn’t make all that much sense.
And casually racist.
I am aware Bitcoin contained no new innovations, but stringing together the pieces that way and then throwing your creation to the baying hordes of invading Visigoths that make up the cryptocurrency “community” was new. Perspiration vs. inspiration.
I know it was the bridge, not the chain, but the average reader does not have time to understand the difference.
I mean he’s still alive - we’ll get to that.
From scratch! think of the managerial talent.
Sometimes known as a Viagra Factory.
This is a particularly good article by Evan Ratliff, the journalist who wrote an excellent book about Le Roux called The Mastermind.
PGP was literally classified as a non-exportable weapon until the late 90s. The American government even tried to prosecute people for it.
Internet time moves fast. TrueCrypt was only discontinued in 2014 but all of us who used it are somehow well into senescence.
Full confession: I only installed it because a client required me too.
This is absolutely the right choice of verb. The only other software installation experiences I’ve had that rose to the level of preaching are every time I’ve installed a tool from RMS’s (peace be upon him ❤️) GNU/Linux foundation.
Not saying it doesn’t exist; maybe this is what Qubes OS or Tails does. I just don’t personally know.
Ultimately the goodness/badness of that government is irrelevant, because if you’re moving thousands of pounds of methamphetamine across a border both the good guys and bad guys are going to seize your assets or at least take a large cut.
For those who don’t know a “sat” (as in “Satoshi”) is a fraction of a bitcoin in the same way a cent is a fraction of a euro.
Or dead. The only other plausible candidate for Satoshi has been dead since 2014.
Even though no one has proven it yet I will put out there that I and literally every other person who has studied computation theory at extremely fancy universities firmly believe P is not equal to NP.
Having engaged with Manila's "subterranean" community 2015-2018, I'm quite sure the author's suspicions are right. Moreover that community's oddity and activities have only been scratched by reports. Some of their shit is utterly hilarious, some frightening and all completely bonkers!
"Seems like libertarianism may be a brain disease whose side effects may include becoming a murderer." You never noticed the the state and those who support it intentionally murders millions?