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Desperately Seeking Satoshi: Bitcoin Creator Hunt Turns Bizarre

<p>It's been a strange 24 hours for bitcoin since Newsweek published an expose purporting to reveal the digital currency's creator.</p>
Image: A man widely believed to be Bitcoin currency founder Satoshi Nakamoto is surrounded by reporters as he leaves his home in Temple City, California
Dorian Nakamoto, the man Newsweek claims is the founder of bitcoin, is surrounded by reporters as he leaves his California home on March 6.DAVID MCNEW / Reuters

One of the Internet's strangest mysteries just got more bizarre.

It's been a whirlwind 24 hours for bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency, since Newsweek published an exposé purporting to reveal its creator: The day involved Newsweek's subject issuing a complete denial, a media-fueled car chase to a sushi lunch, and the mysterious shuffling of 180,000 bitcoins.

In an article published Thursday, Newsweek claimed to have unmasked the long-sought bitcoin creator: a 64-year old Japanese-American man living in California under the name Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto. (The name "Satoshi Nakamoto" appeared in a 2008 whitepaper introducing bitcoin, but the moniker was widely believed to be an alias for a person or group.)

The Newsweek article set off a heated debate over whether the magazine should have outed Nakamoto -- and whether it had even named the right person. Skeptics pointed out that Nakamoto did not say explicitly that he is the founder, and that Newsweek's proof relied on a single vague Nakamoto quote coupled with circumstantial evidence.

Weird, right? Wait.

Next, reporters descended on Nakamoto's Temple City, Calif., neighborhood and peppered the man with questions about the Newsweek article.

"I'm not involved in bitcoin," Nakamoto insisted to the gaggle of reporters, including an NBC News reporter who caught the statement on tape. According to tweets from reporters at the scene, including Los Angeles Times staffers, Nakamoto chose Associated Press journalist Ryan Nakashima seemingly at random for the "free lunch" he repeatedly said he wanted.

Nakamoto and Nakashima hopped in a Prius, and other members of the media followed in a low-speed car chase to a sushi restaurant. Reporters apparently interrupted the lunch, so instead Nakamoto and Nakashima headed to the AP's Los Angeles offices.

The AP later released details from its exclusive two-hour interview with Nakamoto, in which he denied any involvement with bitcoin -- but not before an LA Times reporter caught Nakamoto in an elevator.

The AP published its report later on Thursday, in which Nakamoto denied several times that he was at all involved in bitcoin's creation. In fact, he told the AP he had never even heard of the currency until the Newsweek reporter contacted his son three weeks ago.

Nakamoto added that the Newsweek reporter misunderstood him when he told her -- in his single statement in the Newsweek piece -- "I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it." He meant engineering, not bitcoin, he said.

But Newsweek quickly denied Nakamoto's denial, with both the reporter and the magazine's editor-in-chief saying they stand by the article. "There was no confusion whatsoever about the context of our conversation -- and his acknowledgment of his involvement in bitcoin," writer Leah McGrath Goodman said. The magazine published a longer statement on Friday.

As the he-said-she-said played out in the real world, strange things happened in the online bitcoin community, too.

On Friday morning, the online account that was used to publish a 2009 post introducing bitcoin broke a five-year silence.

The username "Satoshi Nakamoto" had used an online forum for the P2P Foundation, a group that studies peer-to-peer technology, to publish that single seminal post. On Friday morning, the same account published a short comment on the article: "I am not Dorian Nakamoto."

But that comment doesn't necessarily clear up the mystery. It's unclear whether the person who posted the comment on Friday is the writer of the 2009 post ... or whether that writer is indeed the bitcoin creator.

But the administrator of the P2P Foundation forum confirmed the email address connected to the account is the same, at least, and he hasn't detected any suspicious activity on the account.

Meanwhile, on Friday morning, someone moved a whopping 180,000 bitcoins (worth about $114 million).

Speculation about the huge transfer sparked a frenzy on online forums like Reddit: Was it done by the real bitcoin creator to prove he or she is not Dorian Nakamoto? Was it moved by Mt. Gox, the major bitcoin exchange that filed for bankruptcy last week after losing 850,000 bitcoins? Or was it someone else altogether?

But this is bitcoin, which by its nature is shrouded in anonymity and intrigue. Like the true identity of "Satoshi Nakamoto," the 180,000-coin transfer could be yet another unsolved footnote in the mysterious history of bitcoin.