Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Ever since this pseudonymous person or group unleashed Bitcoin on the world in 2008, Nakamoto’s real identity has been one of the biggest mysteries in the cryptocurrency world. And based on a response to my recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, if the CIA knows anything, it’s not talking.
People have claimed to have found Nakamoto on several occasions, without much success. The New York Times reported in 2013 that there was strong evidence that Nakamoto was actually Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind the Silk Road dark web marketplace. Perhaps the most infamous unmasking was in 2014, when Newsweek tracked down a man in California named Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto who was definitely not the guy who created Bitcoin. And who could forget the time that Craig Wright, current chief scientist of the blockchain company nChain, claimed to be Nakamoto, but didn’t produce satisfactory evidence to back up his claim.
In 2016, Alexander Muse, a blogger who mostly writes about entrepreneurship, wrote a blog post that claimed the NSA had identified the real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto using stylometry, which uses a person’s writing style as a unique fingerprint, and then searched emails collected under the PRISM surveillance program to identify the real Nakamoto. Muse said the identity was not shared with him by his source at the Department of Homeland Security.
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As of February, Muse said he had submitted a FOIA request to the DHS to learn more about the case. While recently filing some unrelated FOIA requests of my own, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask some other three-letter agencies what they know about Nakamoto. I decided to start broad and request all internal emails containing Satoshi Nakamoto’s name from the FBI and CIA. Agencies generally ask for these sorts of requests to be narrowed down with information you’re unlikely to have in advance, but sometimes they’ll just dump a trove of emails on your plate and say good luck. My request with the FBI is still open, but a month after I filed my FOIA request with the CIA, I received a terse reply that informed me that “the request has been rejected, with the agency stating that it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the requested documents.”
This is known as a “Glomar response,” and the CIA is famous for wielding this turn of phrase to avoid releasing information about open investigations. In fact, the CIA’s very first tweet paid homage to the agency’s notorious opacity and wrote that “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”
So if the government actually knows who Nakamoto is, it isn’t too keen on sharing that information just yet. But hey, it was worth a shot—and if you’re reading this, you poor souls in the belly of the FBI’s freedom of information request department, I await your reply.