The Blocksize War – Chapter 9 – Faketoshi
Monday May 2, 2016 was one of those wild days in Bitcoin land. Gavin dropped an astonishing bombshell. He released a blogpost stating he has been convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Satoshi Nakamoto was an Australian man called Craig Steven Wright. Gavin claimed he had seen cryptographic proof of this in London.
I believe Craig Steven Wright is the person who invented Bitcoin.
I was flown to London to meet Dr. Wright a couple of weeks ago, after an initial email conversation convinced me that there was a very good chance he was the same person I’d communicated with in 2010 and early 2011. After spending time with him I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt: Craig Wright is Satoshi.
Part of that time was spent on a careful cryptographic verification of messages signed with keys that only Satoshi should possess. But even before I witnessed the keys signed and then verified on a clean computer that could not have been tampered with, I was reasonably certain I was sitting next to the Father of Bitcoin.
During our meeting, I saw the brilliant, opinionated, focused, generous – and privacy-seeking – person that matches the Satoshi I worked with six years ago. And he cleared up a lot of mysteries, including why he disappeared when he did and what he’s been busy with since 2011. But I’m going to respect Dr. Wright’s privacy, and let him decide how much of that story he shares with the world.
We love to create heroes – but also seem to love hating them if they don’t live up to some unattainable ideal. It would be better if Satoshi Nakamoto was the codename for an NSA project, or an artificial intelligence sent from the future to advance our primitive money. He is not, he is an imperfect human being just like the rest of us. I hope he manages to mostly ignore the storm that his announcement will create, and keep doing what he loves– learning and research and innovating.
I am very happy to be able to say I shook his hand and thanked him for giving Bitcoin to the world.
Initially, many people seemed to jump to the conclusion that Gavin must have been hacked, as such a claim was clearly incredible and he would never say anything like this. Due to this concern, Gavin’s commit access on the Bitcoin Core software repository was revoked. Gavin was still free to make contributions, but he no longer had the authority to merge updates to the main repository.
However, a few hours later, a video of Gavin emerged from New York, where he restated the claims. Although the claims seemed outlandish, I could not believe Gavin would get something as important as this wrong. However, of course I was not going to take Gavin’s word for it. I would wait until I had reviewed a message from Craig signed with one of Satoshi’s keys. My assumption was that this would be released very shortly and the Bitcoin community may need to come to terms with the fact that Satoshi was back. My attention immediately turned to the blocksize war. Perhaps Gavin had done this due to his frustration at the lack of adoption of Bitcoin Classic? The blocksize war must have prompted this, I thought. I began to speculate further: perhaps Gavin had controlled this key for years and was now choosing Craig as a front man? Satoshi/Craig could then advocate for Bitcoin Classic. Surely Gavin would never do anything as malicious as that?
Several hours later, in the evening Hong Kong time, Craig Wright released a blogpost. To my surprise, the blogpost was a long mess of confusing and irrelevant sentences and screenshots. Like many Bitcoiners, I was frantically searching through it, scrolling up and down looking for the message and signature. This was so easy to do, where was it? I had my software open and ready to verify the signature on the other side of the screen. After about five minutes of continued scrolling up and down the page, it eventually dawned on me. This blogpost appeared to be confusing nonsense. There was no message or signature from Satoshi, it appeared as if the whole thing was a hoax. Gavin may have been duped. The blogpost appeared to be designed either to cause confusion, or to trick people who had no understanding or experience with cryptography that this was proof.
It turns out there was a signature somewhere in the blogpost, and this was from Satoshi. However, as Reddit user /r/JoukeH pointed out, this was merely taken from one of the transactions Satoshi had signed on the blockchain. There was no message asserting that Craig was Satoshi. All Craig appeared to have done was copy and paste a signature from the public blockchain and add it into a rambling blogpost full of irrelevant content.
The announcement from Gavin coincided with three news stories, on the BBC, The Economist and Wired, written by journalists claiming to have seen the same initial proof in London. This bad journalism about Bitcoin did not surprise me, as it had always seemed quite poor, although, to be fair to Wired, their initial report did at least display a high degree of scepticism. A couple of years back in March 2014, Newsweek claimed to have discovered Satoshi. This story was equally stupid; the journalist appeared to have merely looked through the phonebook, found someone was called Satoshi and then asserted it was them, without any additional evidence.
On May 6, 2016, Wladimir Van Der Laan explained the decision made to remove Gavin’s commit access and why his access had not been reinstated.
So when the question comes up whether we should make Gavin maintainer again, my answer, and that of many others is a resounding “no”. For one, there is just no point, as he wasn’t acting as a maintainer for Bitcoin Core anymore in the first place, and in addition to that, many feel that we can be more productive if we separate our ways.
A few days after Craig’s blogpost, on stage in New York with Pindar Wong and the Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, Gavin repeated his claims that Craig was Satoshi. This was quite astonishing, given the sham of a proof which Craig had presented on his blog. Gavin never made a strong retraction of his claims, although he did later admit that its possible he may have been “bamboozled” in London. Quite why Gavin even flew to London was unclear, as such a proof could have easily been conducted by email. Gavin has asserted that it had to be done in person, because Craig wanted to maintain deniability and not risk somebody else publishing the proof. This apparent dilemma could have easily been resolved with encryption: Gavin could encrypt a secret message using Satoshi’s private key, and Craig could decrypt it (if he had the key). This could prove to Gavin that Craig had the key, but Craig could keep his plausible deniability, as he could claim Gavin leaked the message.
This whole scandal had been a major blow to Gavin’s reputation and a huge win for the smaller blockers. Gavin had given the larger blocker side a major, self-inflicted wound and he had nobody to blame for this but himself. Craig himself was a large blocker and perhaps this had clouded Gavin’s judgement. Small blockers could not believe their luck. Jokes circulated in the smaller block community that perhaps Craig was Satoshi and a small blocker, and had cynically performed this stunt to damage the larger block side. Personally, I felt a bit sorry for Gavin. The pressure on him by this point was tremendous, and everyone makes mistakes.
On the small block side, there was near universal agreement that Craig had committed many acts of fraud and almost everyone agreed that there was no evidence Craig was Satoshi. However, remarkably, the large blocker side appeared to be split down the middle. Prominent large blocker, Roger Ver, for instance, stated that he thought it was likely that Craig was Satoshi.
I think there is enough evidence to think it’s more likely than not.
In private, some smaller blockers seemed pleased by this development. From their point of view, the stalling tactics had worked, and now the large blockers were revealing themselves as the idiots they were. Some people, on the other hand, were more cautious, warning that the large blockers should not be underestimated.
Over the next couple of years, Craig was welcomed as part of the large blocker community, speaking at their conferences and attending their social events. To many of the small blockers, Craig appeared to have an extremely aggressive personality and he appeared to have weak knowledge of the Bitcoin protocol, to many of them he looked and sounded like a classic conman. Craig was a larger blocker, aligning himself with some of the most extreme large blocker views, for instance by calling SegWit “shit” or stating that there were no such things as non-mining nodes, only miners. This was to the delight of some in the large block community, while other large blockers saw the damage to their cause that he was doing. However, there didn’t seem to be much they could do about it, as many leaders in the large block camp had embraced him.
There was also plenty of evidence of fraud and deception committed by Mr Wright for the small blockers to point to. For instance, Mr Wright editing his blog, dated 2008, seven years later in 2015, to make it look like he was writing a cryptocurrency paper at the time, even though a 2014 snapshot of the blog does not include this cryptocurrency comment., By associating themselves with him, the large blockers damaged their cause tremendously. It turned away many of the undecided masses in the middle, convincing them to stay neutral or join the small block side. Convincing and persuading these people is what the blocksize war was all about. It was not until well after the war was over, in November 2018, when the remnants of the large blockers finally parted way with Craig; well, most of them anyway.
We could go into more detail about Craig Wright here: his history of court cases, false claims and backdating messages in verifiable ways. Instead, let’s just say that Craig certainly played his part in the blocksize war, irreparably damaging the reputation of Gavin and rescuing the small blockers in what was otherwise one of their most challenging times in the conflict.