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John McAfee Vows to Unmask Crypto’s Satoshi Nakamoto, Then Backs Off

Olga Kharif
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John McAfee Vows to Unmask Crypto’s Satoshi Nakamoto, Then Backs Off

(Bloomberg) -- John McAfee, the eccentric antivirus pioneer known for his brushes with the law, said he has spoken with Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto and plans to reveal the person’s identity.

But the timing of the announcement is up in the air. After previously telling Bloomberg he would expose Nakamoto “within a week,” he backed off the plan. McAfee said Tuesday on Twitter the controversy could hurt his efforts to fight an extradition to the U.S.

The background of Nakamoto -- a pseudonym that is thought to refer to a person or group of people -- has been fiercely debated for years, with a long list of discredited theories fueling suspicion Bitcoin’s pioneer is probably dead. In recent days, McAfee has said that Nakamoto is a man living in the U.S.

“I’ve spoken with him, and he is not a happy camper about my attempt to out him,” McAfee said in a phone interview from the Bahamas.

McAfee’s antics and erratic behavior have overshadowed his past as a software pioneer, and it’s hard to know whether he’s finally tracked down the real Nakamoto -- a feat that many others have failed to pull off.

‘People Forget’

But McAfee said in the interview that he has spent a lifetime pursuing hackers, making him well-suited to this task.

“People forget that I am a technologist,” he said. “I am one of the best.”

In delaying the revelation, McAfee posted a letter from Mario Gray, his extradition lawyer, saying that exposing Nakamoto could make him the target of lawsuits -- forcing him to defend himself “on many fronts.”

“Releasing the identity of Satoshi at this time could influence the trial and risk my extradition,” he said in a tweet. “I cannot risk that. I’ll wait.”

The entrepreneur founded McAfee Associates in 1987, though the company has since passed through several hands. He was a person of interest in a murder in Belize, after which he returned to the U.S. In recent years, McAfee has been investing in digital coins, as well as promoting them -- for a fee -- in his own Twitter feed. He also is running for U.S. president.

If Nakamoto is indeed alive, that could throw a wrench into Bitcoin trading. Nakamoto -- possibly along with fellow pioneers of the crypto currency -- is believed to be one of the largest holders of Bitcoins. He may possess nearly 1 million of them, a huge chunk when you consider that entire circulating supply is about 17.6 million coins. The stake would be worth $5.6 billion at current prices.

Because these coins haven’t been moved in 10 years, most people have presumed Nakamoto was dead -- a theory supported by a lawsuit filed by the estate of a Florida man that claims he helped invent Bitcoin.

Pressure on Prices

Nakamoto wrote the white paper outlining Bitcoin in 2008, and then worked with a group of people to develop the currency, which debuted the following year, McAfee said.

If Nakamoto isn’t dead, then these coins could potentially enter the market. And their sale would put pressure on Bitcoin prices. Every time a trustee of the now-defunct exchange Mt. Gox sold Bitcoins to pay back creditors, the currency’s price dipped sharply.

Theories about Nakamoto have circulated for years. The New York Times and New Yorker have both tried to find the person or people behind the pseudonym. In a 2014 cover story, Newsweek identified the real Nakamoto as a California physicist, who denied the report. In a 2016 blog post and interviews with three media outlets, Australian entrepreneur Craig Wright had said that he is Nakamoto.

McAfee’s threat to out Nakamoto was prompted in part by a recent libel lawsuit that Wright filed against a podcaster who questioned if Wright is Nakamoto. Wright isn’t the man he found and spoke to, McAfee told Bloomberg.

“My entire life I’ve been tracking people who are the best in the world, and hiding their identity,” he said in the interview. “Finding Satoshi was a piece of cake for me.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Olga Kharif in Portland at okharif@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net, David Scheer

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