LOS ANGELES — The man Newsweek claims is the founder of bitcoin denied he had anything to do with the digital currency.
In a two-hour interview, Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, 64, said he had never heard of bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a Newsweek reporter three weeks ago.
Nakamoto acknowledged that many details in Newsweek’s report are correct, including that he once worked for a defense contractor and that his given name at birth was Satoshi. But he disputed the magazine’s assertion that he is “the face behind bitcoin.” “I got nothing to do with it,” he said, repeatedly.
Newsweek stands by its story in which it said it had found the bitcoin founder, a model-train buff living in Southern California with his mom.
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Since bitcoin’s birth in 2009, the currency’s creator has remained a mystery. The person — or people — behind its founding have been known only as “Satoshi Nakamoto,” which many observers believed to be a pseudonym.
After the story was posted on Newsweek’s website early Thursday, Nakamoto, who is divorced, said his home was bombarded by phone calls.
By midmorning, a dozen reporters were waiting outside the modest two-story home on the residential street in Temple City, Calif., where he lives. He emerged about noon saying he wanted to speak with one reporter only and asked for a “free lunch.”
From there, events got weird, with a semicomical car chase through multiple cities as Nakamoto rode in a Prius driven by an Associated Press reporter — with other reporters in pursuit — on the way to the downtown Los Angeles AP bureau.
During the car ride and later over a (free, for him) sushi lunch at the bureau, Nakamoto spoke about his life, career and family, addressing many of the assertions in Newsweek’s 4,500-word piece.
He also said a key portion of the piece — where he is quoted telling the reporter on his doorstep before two police officers: “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it” — was misunderstood.
Nakamoto said he is a native of Beppu, Japan, and came to the U.S. when he was 10. He speaks English and Japanese, but his English isn’t flawless. Asked if he said the quote, Nakamoto responded, “No.”
“I’m saying I’m no longer in engineering. That’s it,” he said of the exchange. “It sounded like I was involved before with bitcoin and looked like I’m not involved now. That’s not what I meant. I want to clarify that,” he said.
Newsweek writer Leah McGrath Goodman, who spent two months researching the story, said in response: “I stand completely by my exchange with Mr. Nakamoto. There was no confusion whatsoever about the context of our conversation — and his acknowledgment of his involvement in bitcoin.”
Several times during the interview, Nakamoto referred to the currency as “bitcom.” When shown the original bitcoin proposal that Newsweek linked to in its story, Nakamoto said he didn’t write it, and said the email address in the document wasn’t his.
The nearest Nakamoto has come to working on a financial system, he said, was a project for Citibank with a company called Quotron, which provided real-time stock prices to brokerage firms. Nakamoto said he worked on the software side for about four years starting in 1987.
He also said he doesn’t discuss his career because in many cases, his work was confidential. When he was employed by Hughes Aircraft starting around 1973, he worked on missile systems for the Navy and Air Force. He said he also worked for the Federal Aviation Administration starting around 1999 but was laid off after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Getting hired by a military contractor was why he applied for and received U.S. citizenship. He decided around that time to change his name, adding “Dorian Prentice” to Satoshi Nakamoto, partly to sound more Western.
As he poured over the Newsweek story, he repeatedly said “Oh jeez,” as he read private details about himself, quotes from his children and specifics from his medical history.
Bitcoin has become popular among tech enthusiasts, libertarians and risk-seeking investors because it allows people to make one-to-one transactions, buy goods and services and exchange money across borders without involving banks, credit-card issuers or other third parties. Criminals like bitcoin for the same reasons.
Users access bitcoins by solving math riddles with software programs or by buying the coins on online “exchanges.”
In December, the value of a single bitcoin hit an all-time high of $1,200. It was about $665 on Thursday, according to the website bitcoincharts.com.