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CoinTalk™️ is produced in partnership with Medium and hosted by Aaron Lammer and Jay Caspian Kang. Press “Listen to the story” above to play the episode. (You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, download the MP3, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
- “Was Bitcoin Created by This International Drug Dealer? Maybe!” (Evan Ratliff, Wired, July 2019)
- “The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.” (Evan Ratliff, Random House 2019)
Aaron Lammer: Hello Evan.
Evan Ratliff: Hey Aaron. A long-time listener, first time guest.
Aaron Lammer: I love it. I have to say I take a deep pleasure when my friends who are not crypto people’s work causes them to have to crash into the crypto lane. I would have not picked you as someone who would be interested in bitcoin.
Evan Ratliff: Actually, in some ways I fit the profile of someone who would be interested in bitcoin. For a variety of reasons I’ve never really spent much time with it. I’ve certainly never owned any bitcoin.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: I’ve never engaged in the trading of any cryptocurrency. I’ve never written about it really. The grand total of my exposure, actually, comes from listening to you and Jay talk about it, only about 10% of which I actually understand.
Aaron Lammer: Well, I feel like you’ve been like a Zelig. Not a Zelig on crypto history, but you’ve crossed paths with many Zeligs. You’re friends with [Josh Barro 00:02:06] who did a lot of the Silk Road reporting. I know that you’re close with people at Wired who have been involved in some Satoshi whiffs historically. So it’s not like the who is Satoshi story is so far away from your journalistic lane, but I have to say that I kind of thought we had put this story to bed a couple years ago. It kind of seemed like in a cold case where they’re like, we’ve checked out all the leads. Looks like we’re never going to catch that killer. There was a long period where there was a big Satoshi story every year, I felt like, and then we’ve had kind of a lull in Satoshi media.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, that’s what it seems like. I mean, that’s one reason I never tackled it, partly so many pieces had been done. By the time I was ever taking a look at it, so many pieces had been done. Some of them had whiffed. The funny thing is, if you look back at them everyone thinks they whiffed, but only to the extent that the person they were pegging to be Satoshi just denied it, and everyone said, “Well, it must not be them.” Then the next one comes up. But I think certainly the Craig Wright situation deterred people from continuing to float people, both because, and I dealt with this myself, to what extent are you going to deal with Craig Wright as a possible Satoshi in an article where you already have a lot to explain? So you have to deal with all of that.
Evan Ratliff: Then the other thing is, no matter what you think about any of that, now that I’ve spent some time reporting it, in that situation there are forged documents. Now who forged the documents is a matter some dispute. We could talk about that, but I think once you get into that situation journalistically it’s just very hard. You can’t trust anyone that comes at you with something. Everyone has an agenda. I just feel like it’s such a mess now. I mean, people are still doing it. There have been two floated in the last two weeks.
Aaron Lammer: Oh really? It’s getting hot again. Feel it coming for your corner.
Evan Ratliff: Maybe it’s a cyclical thing. Satoshi just comes around every once in a while.
Aaron Lammer: I want get to the Craig Wright trial, because it’s weirdly the inciting incident of this whole Satoshi hunt. The whole situation with Craig Wright and the forged documents, it reminds me a little bit of the Stephen Glass controversy, where people were like… Actually maybe this wasn’t Stephen Glass. Who’s the New York Times fab that was-
Evan Ratliff: That was-
Aaron Lammer: Jayson Blair.
Evan Ratliff: Jayson Blair, yeah.
Aaron Lammer: I can’t remember who this was said about. It applies to both of them. People said, how did the fact checking process not catch these guys? The fact checking process is not meant to catch someone who is openly lying and forging documents and emails. Journalism is sort of built on the idea that at least the things that you are looking at are true. Once people start faking documents, then you’re getting into outright fraud. I think journalists in the case of Craig Wright have revealed that someone fraudulently changed documents and then sent them to a court, which I would say is highly audacious. In general, it’s a difficult place to be. It sort of puts you in the realms of the amateur Reddit detective when you’re going like, “Is this Photoshopped or not?”
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, but I will say in that particular case, and we can go into the details of it if it makes sense, but I think there are documents that actually those online communities have identified in a kind of forensic manner the flaws in the documents.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: It appears to me from the latest court hearing and transcripts that no one disagrees that there are forged documents, it’s just a matter of one side saying, “Well someone broke into the computer and forged the documents in order to make me look bad.” And the other side saying, “No, you forged the documents and then submitted them to this court.” Then once everyone accepts that there are forged documents, you can figure out that they’re forged, but then what do you trust? Which of these documents can you trust at all? It just becomes a tremendous mess for a journalist to try and sort through without a lot of time just being able to focus and look at everything. That’s the other thing about the Satoshi situation is there have been so many misfires that it’s hard for any particular reporter to take the time that it would take to go through everything again.
Aaron Lammer: Well, in the case of Craig Wright, it sort of puts you in a position where you start having to judge the character of people, not just the evidence. Craig Wright’s character is, if there is someone who is running around while he’s asleep changing documents on his email servers, he has an amazing capacity to end up in these situations that I’ve never heard about anyone else ending up in ever before. I mean, it didn’t take an internet detective to look and see that the dates on some of these emails and documents does not match the day of the week that’s listed on them. It’s not exactly like high, high level grand hacking. It’s more like when I used to make driver’s license when I was in high school, and we would just take a number from one part and Photoshop and copy it and paste it over. It’s more like on that scale level of forgery.
Evan Ratliff: I agree with you from what I’ve seen. I will say, to say I’m neutral doesn’t really make sense. I’m a reporter, I don’t have a stake in this situation. But I am very interested in the trial, and I’m thinking about reporting on it further. I would only say in answer to that, that doesn’t really resolve the question of who… If the forger was an amateur, it still could be that Craig Wright is an amateur forger.
Evan Ratliff: But it could also be that the person who broke into the computers that was trying to screw him over with the Australian tax office, which appears to be the claim in court, they were themselves an amateur. You can’t get to the base level of truth through that method, because there’s always an answer to it. Now you could argue that’s how you would operate if you had a big house of cards you were trying to maintain. I think there’s arguments to be made. I didn’t really assess that. That might be for a future article. I felt like I was trying to get at this particular question that arose-
Aaron Lammer: Let’s zoom way, way back. What year did you first write about Paul Le Roux, the mastermind?
Evan Ratliff: I first found out about Paul Le Roux in last 2014. Actually, I started following the case in 2013 when one of his henchmen was arrested, but Paul Le Roux was not a known figure at that time. Essentially, Paul Le Roux, just to give a little background, he’s a former programmer who then started an online prescription network where he sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of painkillers to American customers through a kind of genius setup. Then he parlayed that money into an enormous crime syndicate that he ran out of the Philippines. He’s South African and Zimbabwean, but he was operating out of the Philippines.
Evan Ratliff: He engaged in almost every crime you can think of, arms trafficking, major drug trafficking, intimidation and violence. A lot of weird stuff like starting a compound in Somalia that was defended by militia, and doing all sorts of gold deals all over Africa, timber companies, all kinds of crazy stuff. I started reporting on him really in 2013, but his name came to light in 2014. I first published stories about him in the Atavist Magazine, which is the magazine where I formerly the editor, in 2016.
Aaron Lammer: You’re following Paul Le Roux. Paul Le Roux basically became your life for a few years. I remember, this wasn’t even very long ago, we’re over here in downtown Brooklyn and you would be over at the courthouse while he was on trial. When was his trial?
Evan Ratliff: He never went to trial, but some of his hit men went to trial, and some of the prescription pill people went to trial. The hit men went to trial actually in Manhattan in 2018. I had already several years into the reporting at that point. La Roux testified at length in that trial, so it was kind of like the most we ever heard from Paul Le Roux was several days of testimony at that trial where he was testifying against his guys who he had hired to kill people on his behalf, and then he flipped on them and they all got sentenced to life.
Aaron Lammer: I hate to spoiler alert your entire book, which took you like five years, but Le Roux is in jail. He does not make it out. Basically as I recall from the book, correct me if I’m wrong… The book’s great. Let’s plug the book. The book’s called The Mastermind. This story is as wild as any crypto story, but it also involves murders, people trying to set up oil ports in war zones. It’s an epic story. It ends with him getting caught, which I don’t think is like a huge surprise in that he was involved in as many criminal enterprises as one could possibly manage while still sleeping.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah. How he got caught was actually incredible. It’s not that much of a spoiler to say he got caught, because really the last third of the book is once he’s in custody what happens. But the circumstances that led to his capture and everything that led up to it are kind of the heart of the book.
Aaron Lammer: He flipped almost immediately, flipped I would say almost aggressively, like became a more than helpful witness to the government.
Evan Ratliff: Actively, yes.
Aaron Lammer: Setting up stings for former associates. It’s always been, and me and you just shooting the shit about this, if you have a friend who’s covering a super criminal it’s great. You can just like, “Man, what are you up to?” [inaudible 00:11:54] talk about this. You’ve always held that of all the money he made doing all of this crime, it does not seem like it was all seized. It seems like there is still outstanding money out there. That’s one of the theories about why he was so eager to cooperate with the government, is that he believes at some point he will be released, and that potentially there’s a lot of money waiting for him somewhere.
Evan Ratliff: Yes. I mean, he certainly has a lot of money out there, according to everyone on every side of his story, including his relatives and employees, including people at the DEA. Nobody says, “Oh, we got all the money.” In fact, people at the DEA have basically said they’re not even going to chase the money I think, because it’s too hard to get to and it would be too much effort. I know that he has trusts. He has a trust in the Virgin Islands. I had a whistleblower inside of essentially a bank investment firm in Hong Kong who kind of gave me some of the documents related to that.
Evan Ratliff: He’s got millions of dollars I would say at the least out there somewhere. Now whether he can get to it that easily, and there’s a question of when he gets out. He’s not sentenced yet, so he’ll be sentenced in August is the scheduled date. It could be five years. It could be 10 years. It could be 30 years. But yes, I think in a general sense he’s looking to get out, he’s got money that he can probably access according to everyone who knows anything, and he wants to set up shop again. That’s the generally held theory, absent this potential other development.
Aaron Lammer: So you published the book. The book’s amazing, gets amazing reviews. Then Craig Wright the trial starts, or the papers start getting filed. This is the case between Craig Wright and the estate of Dave Kleiman, which I think is represented by his brother, Ira Kleiman.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah. I think I might be Kleiman, but I’m not sure.
Aaron Lammer: Am I mispronouncing his name?
Evan Ratliff: That’s how it was said to me by someone involved in the case.
Aaron Lammer: Say it again.
Evan Ratliff: Kleiman.
Aaron Lammer: Kleiman, okay. Dave Kleiman and Ira Kleiman. Basically, Ira Kleiman is suing Craig Wright to get back a bunch of bitcoin that he thinks that Craig Wright has that he misappropriated from Dave Kleiman after Dave Kleiman’s death.
Evan Ratliff: Yes. That’s the subject of the suit.
Aaron Lammer: Millions of pages probably filed about this now over time. I have not parsed the entire case. I don’t know how much of it you’ve-
Evan Ratliff: I’ve read a lot of it.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah, yeah. Wow, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry about that. Was it a footnote?
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, it was a footnote. What happened was, they had conducted a deposition with Craig Wright, asking him a bunch of questions. Then he had refused to answer certain questions in the deposition. Then subsequent to that, his lawyers basically filed a motion saying that he would answer those questions, and in fact in the motion he sort of did answer the questions, if those answers remained sealed. That was the idea. The language was around there being either threats to Craig Wright’s life or other people’s lives, and/or national security implications in revealing these particular names. There were some names, more than one name. There was a name of a person that he had conducted a conference call with, with Dave Kleiman.
Evan Ratliff: Then there was what seemed to be the names of people that he had helped the government catch in some capacity or another, either through his software he had created with Dave Kleiman, or through some other means. A lot of it was blacked out, so you could kind of piece together what exactly they were talking about. Then there was a footnote that was in fact redacted, but the redaction didn’t go over to the second page. The end of the footnote was there, and the end of that footnote contained a link to Paul Le Roux’s Wikipedia page, much of which is sourced to my book, or the articles in the Atavist in my book. The other of which was the end of a Daily Mail story about Paul Le Roux. So clearly Paul Le Roux’s name came up, and that’s what started this whole thing.
Aaron Lammer: It seems like a lot of secrets come out because of redaction errors.
Evan Ratliff: It is a kind of common thing. It wasn’t the one that you usually get, which is that they use sort of PDF redaction tool, and then someone just goes in and takes it off, or just copies and pastes the text underneath. That’s my favorite one. This was a more-
Aaron Lammer: I’ve seen also a few of the people who do it, it’s just not dark enough.
Evan Ratliff: I love a good redaction error.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah. Okay, so there’s a redaction error, and that redaction error basically points directly at you, because it’s pointing to a Wikipedia page which is based on your reporting.
Evan Ratliff: To a large extent, I mean there’s a lot of reporting on Paul Le Roux, so I won’t take full credit for the Wikipedia page, but a lot of it is sourced to my reporting. I started hearing about it. I got an email about it on a Sunday in May, because it came up on either, I don’t remember where it surfaced. I think it might have surfaced on 4chan originally, then it was on Hacker News, and then it was bitcoin.org, or it was on the main bitcoin forum. It was in three or four places, and then people started emailing me.
Evan Ratliff: Then people started DMing me and saying, “What do you know about this, and what’s your theory? Could this be true,” or just, “Have you seen this?” At first I was just like, I want nothing to do with this. Because the thing I should back up and say is that this is not the first time that La Roux was connected to Satoshi. When I first published these series of articles in the Atavist Magazine in 2016, I actually heard from people. There was some kind of Hacker News forum kind of stuff where people said, “Oh, maybe he’s Satoshi,” kind of threw it out there.
Aaron Lammer: Oh, really?
Evan Ratliff: Yeah. In fact, I should email back, one guy emailed me like an elaborate theory which kind of matches with the reporting that I have subsequently done. Where he said, he or she I can’t remember, said, “There’s a lot of things that line up here. I’m just throwing it out there. A lot of things line up here.” I had looked into it for the book, and I had actually spent a pretty long time just trying to find anyone who mentioned it, or any clue. There are lots of places were you could find something that would match up precisely. For instance, Paul Le Roux registered thousands and thousands of domains.
Evan Ratliff: He actually had his own domain registry that he created in the Philippines in order to run his prescription pill business so that no one could shut him down. He could just generate domains. If there was some domain in there that matched something that Satoshi had registered, there were ways in which I thought, okay maybe this, and I just didn’t find anything. I wrote in the book that I did not find any connection. In the footnote, it just says like, “I looked through everything, and I didn’t find anything.” So I basically felt like I had closed that door for myself.
Aaron Lammer: Having read the book, I read the entire book without thinking of Satoshi or bitcoin at all. But the minute you told me, “Hey, La Roux is in play,” the two things my mind zoomed to very, very quickly are the involvement that Paul Le Roux had in the development of a very widely used encryption, what would you call it, an encryption tool.
Evan Ratliff: It’s a disc encryption tool. It’s a piece of software that encrypts hard drives.
Aaron Lammer: Which is called TrueCrypt, or E4M?
Evan Ratliff: Well, so Paul Le Roux in the late ’90s, he wrote his own piece of software that he authored himself called E4M. Encryption for the Masses is what it stands for. There’s no dispute that he was the person who wrote that. It was an open source piece of software. Then there was sort of convoluted back and forth that is too complex to go into, it’s in the book in a shorter form, but essentially he got hired into a software firm. They were going to use E4M, there was a dispute over whether or not it was still open source. There was the threat of a lawsuit, and then he got fired.
Evan Ratliff: Then TrueCrypt emerged a little bit later. TrueCrypt explicitly is based on E4M. I mean, if you read the original announcement of TrueCrypt, it’s like the successor to E4M. It uses E4M code, it credits Paul Le Roux in TrueCrypt. It’s still an open question whether Paul Le Roux himself was involved in the development of TrueCrypt. The developers there are anonymous. They stayed anonymous. There are theories about who they are, and there’s some links to various people, but essentially they’re anonymous.
Evan Ratliff: TrueCrypt was one of the most widely used disc encryption tools up until, I mean some of the Snowden documents contained information that the NSA was unable to break TrueCrypt. Snowden himself was a big advocate of TrueCrypt at the time until 2014, when the anonymous developers of TrueCrypt mysteriously sort of shut it down. Or they posted on the website, they didn’t shut it down, it’s open source, but they posted on the website, “Don’t use TrueCrypt anymore. It’s not safe.” Which is itself a separate mystery.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah, I want to read this book also.
Evan Ratliff: The point of all of this is that the reason why Paul Le Roux is a good candidate for Satoshi, I think the primary reason is that he actually wrote a piece of encryption software. He wrote it himself, he showed up on encryption forums and announced it. The pattern very much follows what Satoshi did. A lot of the people that get thrown out as they might being Satoshi, no one ever looks into, can this person code. Occasionally you’ll see people asking like, “Do they know C++ or not?” If someone has one line on their resume about C++, they’ll be like, okay. But the idea that someone would write the software for bitcoin never having written open source software before, to me is a little bit ridiculous.
Evan Ratliff: It wasn’t someone’s first try. Several people have said this to me when I’ve interviewed them about it too, you don’t just show up and write software like that. There has to be something in this person’s background, or they hired someone if it’s a team or whatever, to create the software. Paul Le Roux explicitly did exactly that. Not only that, he did a few things that kind of match up in this other way. I’ll give one example, which is he wrote to some people who had written previous encryption algorithms in the past, like SSL, and asked about crediting them in the software.
Evan Ratliff: Adam Back, who is the person who I guess generally is believed is the first person to ever hear from Satoshi and is cited in the bitcoin white paper, he got a very similar email from Satoshi. The very first email that sort of said, “Hey, I know about [inaudible 00:22:35] you’ve created, and I want to know how to cite it in this thing that I’m doing.” They have this similar vibe. This person was involved in open source software, kind of understood how these things worked. That’s sort of what set me off again when I started looking into it, there are these ways in which these stories align that kind of pull you into looking at the evidence.
Aaron Lammer: I think that the idea of programming and code in general is so diverse now that people can kind of find a background in a lot of people that you’re like, oh, he did this. Kleiman is an interesting example, where I’ve always heard that Kleiman was the programmer and Craig Wright was the front man, the hype man. But when you actually look into Kleiman’s background, he’d done some IT work, it doesn’t exactly line… If the crime was taking over like a corporate computer network maybe, he would maybe have an expertise in that. But the very specific world of bitcoin maps very closely to what you just described, this collaborative open source work where people are building on each other’s work, citing each other.
Aaron Lammer: The interest in encryption is obviously a big one. I guess there’s one other light bulb that immediately went off for me, which is this guy is creating open source software to solve his own problems. He made encryption and also required encryption to stay out of jail. So many of the situations that La Roux was finding himself in, needing to transfer millions of dollars to cartels, needing to set up infrastructure in countries like Somalia that have no or little banking system, these are all the kinds of problems bitcoin kind of solves. You can kind of think of a guy who is having these money problems. This is a person who, when he was caught people were tearing open the walls of his safe houses because he had been burying gold in the walls. Anyone who is putting gold inside their walls can see a use case for bitcoin.
Evan Ratliff: It was actually under the hot tub-
Aaron Lammer: Under the hot tub.
Evan Ratliff: That was the [crosstalk 00:24:48] location where the gold had been, one stash of gold. People believe there’s still stashes of gold all over the place, because he operated… I mean, they confiscated tens of millions of dollars in gold bars from him in Hong Kong. He had much more than that in the Philippines, so his employees say. Yeah, I think philosophically there’s this sort of technical skill aspect, did he have the skills to do it. I think there’s a very good case to be made that he did. Not only that he did, but that the way he deployed those skills sort of matches up with the Satoshi kind of style.
Evan Ratliff: Then there’s the more philosophical outlook, or the motives you might want to say, for creating it. There’s sort of two ways that works. One is that when he was writing E4M, the thing that he was doing as his day job was programming for banks. He was doing swift international transfer systems for big international banks, Dutch banks, Australian banks, and he had a lot of problems with the banking system. Even before all of the criminal stuff, I have online posts of him complaining about the banking system.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah. And it’s fair to say that La Roux is a libertarian in the most extreme like, I take you out in my boat and shoot you in international waters form of libertarianism.
Evan Ratliff: Yes. Yeah, I guess you could say that. He was the law unto himself in the most extreme way, and also in the sort of release notes for E4M he talks about the necessity for encryption and government surveillance. Classic kind of cipher punk stuff, but at the same time the philosophy I think overall makes sense. But then specifically by 2008, when the bitcoin white paper came out, La Roux was involved in first of all an online pharmaceutical network that always had trouble with payments, because they had credit card processors who would drop them if they believed that what they were doing was illegal. So they were always having to shift credit card processors.
Evan Ratliff: Then he had large amounts of money that he was trying to transfer all over the world and basically launder in different ways. He was doing it through Hong Kong, and he would have trouble with the banks there. He was doing it through a bank in Singapore. He talked about, “I need to create my own bank,” at one point in Manila. “I need my own bank in order to deal with all this money.” He mentioned to people… So this is when I started looking back into this, I contacted some of the people who had worked for him, and sort of re-asked them, people who I had not asked before about bitcoin. One of them said, “Yeah, he talked about digital currencies in 2007 and 2008.”
Evan Ratliff: Another one said, “Yeah, around that time he said, ‘The only way to really be rich is to have your own currency.’” He kind of compared it to North Korea, essentially having a currency that was disconnected from the rest of the world, and you could just mint it. So there are I think reasons why it would make sense. Now, I don’t know how quickly you want to get into the skeptical side of Paul Le Roux, but there’s an answer to all of those things too. How would you expect to create bitcoin and have it solve these problems in any kind of time horizon?
Evan Ratliff: It would be a long time horizon for it to get the level of adoption that would enable you to actually solve the problems we’re talking about Paul Le Roux needing to solve. I view it more as, he in an intellectual sense wanted to solve these problems. He talked about them early on, like when he launched his encryption software. He just cared about that. He wasn’t actually a criminal at that time. He was just interested in encryption. Later he was using encryption to protect himself, but at the time he did E4M, he was just a young coder who wanted to add something to the community and saw a way to do it.
Aaron Lammer: Before we get to the skeptical stuff though, La Roux was a moon shot kind of person. This is a person who sent a bunch of his subordinates to a war torn country and said, “Figure out how to build an oil refinery there.”
Evan Ratliff: It started as a tuna fishing operation.
Aaron Lammer: Sorry, a tuna fishing operation that became an oil refinery?
Evan Ratliff: They were going to get into oil, and then maybe the whole time he just wanted to set up a base of operations to distribute pharmaceuticals. He wanted to grow drugs there, that was part of it. They set up greenhouses. Then he wanted to kidnap tourists. Then he wanted to conduct a coup in the Seychelles. He had a lot of plans, big, big plans.
Aaron Lammer: He’s not above taking a, hey, this is probably not going to work, but in 10 years it could make me very rich, kind of outlook.
Evan Ratliff: Oh sure. I mean, he was developing missile guidance software to sell to the Iranian government. He had sold an explosives formula to the Iranian government. He was trying to sell them this missile guidance software that he was developing in the Philippines. He also had programmers that he would import from eastern Europe, including C++ programmers they were often advertising for to all sorts of things. They were building drones, underwater drones, aerial drones. They just had projects. He just had all these projects.
Aaron Lammer: All roads lead back to Romania, always. The story is going to end in Romania.
Evan Ratliff: He had a kind of operation in Romania, it was just programmers who did a lot of the general IT stuff. Then these big projects he would bring them to the Philippines and basically set them up in kind of like a warehouse and have them build software for him. That too, it’s not entirely clear to me how you involve multiple people in bitcoin, but the idea of as you say being someone who launches big grandiose projects without necessarily seeing the short-term return but seeing a huge long-term return, that is Paul Le Roux.
Aaron Lammer: Well, there’s another point that, again, this is all very anecdotal. Just like none of this is investment advice, none of this is factual accusations. La Roux kind of had a history of finding trusted lieutenants, giving them big projects and being like, “Hey, you figure it out. I’m going to step back here.” That was sort of how the stuff with the tuna fishing worked. The history, me and you both were reading back through the Satoshi email and forum history, and this is basically what happens with Gavin Andresen at a certain point. At a certain point, Satoshi is like, “Hey, Gavin Andresen, you bitcoin.” I don’t know, it just struck me. You were saying that bitcoin is a mega long shot. For bitcoin to work in the way that Paul Le Roux needed it to work, all it needed was to have a stable network where people could do transactions.
Aaron Lammer: For the kinds of business that he wanted to do, it wouldn’t matter if bitcoin was worth one cent, one dollar, or a million dollars. It would still allow you to transfer value. The liquidity would have been pretty bad for getting out of a coke deal, but as soon as bitcoin was training on exchanges, which was happening within the first few years I think, it would have become a useful tool for someone who was money laundering basically. This is the use case I talk about on the show for Monero I think. Monero is probably a better project for Paul Le Roux to have come up with again, but again Monero would have never existed unless bitcoin had existed previously. So he did in the same way as E4M set forth a movement that would greatly benefit a La Roux type down the line.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, I mean I think that’s true, although again I personally feel like that particular motive, it seems to me more likely, let’s take it for a second that Paul Le Roux is Satoshi. I would think the motivation would be closer to E4M, where he just wanted to create something that the world needed and set forth. Now, he had a particular insight into why the world needed that, and belief about governments, and a feeling about his money being vulnerable all the time.
Evan Ratliff: I think those things would have gone into creating it, but I don’t think he necessarily would have seen immediate value in doing it. I mean, partly because none of his websites ever took bitcoin. It was a little bit early for them to do so, but you would think if he was Satoshi, one of the first things he would do would be like, I have all these websites that I’m selling drugs on. Maybe I should use bitcoin there. He never did.
Aaron Lammer: Although that is terrible OPSEC for a former cipher punk.
Evan Ratliff: This is where you get into like the philosophy of considering who Satoshi is, which is that once you’re at the level of evidence where you’re saying, “Oh, he must have done that on purpose to obscure his identity,” or, “She must have done that on purpose to obscure her identity,” who Satoshi is, then you’re in the realm of it’s beyond speculation. It’s sort of like an inverse evidence. You can take anything and say, “Oh, well that was something he used to disguise his identity.” I tried to stay away from those types of quote/unquote “proofs” and stick to the things that factually lined up between Le Roux and Satoshi.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah, I mean the biggest stumbling block in most of the people who I think are the top 10 suspected to be Satoshi, which are the usual suspects, the Hal Finney’s of the world, is if Hal Finney is Satoshi, Hal Finney was exchanging emails with himself. Which again, a genius person might do, but it gets into those unknowables where it’s kind of akin to the document forgery stuff we were talking about before. How far would someone go to keep this fiction alive? When I look at someone like Craig Wright, I reject him as a Satoshi for many, many reasons, but one of them is how sloppy he is.
Aaron Lammer: He just makes lots of unforced errors. If you find out interviews with Craig Wright, you can hear him talking about when he first heard about bitcoin. Which is either a very sloppy slip-up or Craig Wright is not Satoshi. Paul Le Roux was a pretty methodical person who did not make a lot of dumb errors. He was able to stay doing what he did for a pretty long time, because he was pretty good at it, and pretty paranoid and pretty careful.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, and the DEA started tracking him in 2007, did not catch him until 2012. Part of that was, for years he created layers. When he first started his pharmaceutical business, I’m not even sure that he thought it was illegal. There was some open questions about whether it was illegal at that time.
Aaron Lammer: He designed it to be kind of gray legal, like they didn’t opiates, they sold semi things that were-
Evan Ratliff: They were not controlled substances.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah, not controlled-
Evan Ratliff: It was things like Tramadol, which-
Aaron Lammer: … but they’ll fuck you up.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, they were addictive painkillers, but they were not on controlled, they are now, partly because of Paul Le Roux, but they were not on the controlled substance list. It was a gray area business, let’s say. His name was actually on some of the original servers in Canada. They would rent server space, and sometimes his name would be on there. That’s how they actually got onto him to begin with. But then over time, he realized that they were onto him, and he started creating layers around him with dozens and dozens of shell companies, names, he called them, what did he call them? Dummies. He would have people that he would just get some person from Zimbabwe that he would hire to fly to Hong Kong and open 10 companies with their own ID. They had no idea what they were doing.
Evan Ratliff: He would do things like that. He also of course used encryption, so he developed his own encrypted servers. He had his own encrypted email that could not be accessed by subpoena, I mean by search warrant. He was running it. Even if you could get, you wouldn’t be able to un-encrypt it. He was schooled in the way of hiding your identity. He had multiple passports, including a diplomatic passport, which is one of the things that crops up a lot in the Le Roux Satoshi comparison. This is one of the pieces of evidence.
Aaron Lammer: All right, you’ve got to explain that one. I tried to explain it to Jay, and I was like, his name was-
Evan Ratliff: I’ve now put it in front of various bitcoin people, and some of them have said, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” Other ones are like, “That is the most ridiculous piece of evidence I’ve ever heard.” Paul Le Roux for many years wanted to obtain a diplomatic passport, because he believed that it would help him have immunity against prosecution. He knew he was being chased by law enforcement from different parts of the world. He was in the Philippines, he had bribed his way to being very well protected in the Philippines, but he was still worried that they could get him. So essentially he sent some relatives into the Democratic Republic of Congo to get a diplomatic passport.
Evan Ratliff: It is a real diplomatic passport that they bribed, they went in with $100,000 strapped to their persons. They bribed an official, they got this passport. This passport, it surfaces in all… The image of this passport is one that I got that someone sent me very, very early on in my reporting. The name on it is Paul, his name is Paul Calder Le Roux, the name is Paul Calder Le Roux Solotshi, S-O-L-O-T-S-H-I. If you just look at it, it looks like Satoshi. Your first glance, you think, oh, wow, it says Satoshi. Actually Solotshi is a name that as far as I can tell is only used in the Congo. I asked the person who got the passport…
Evan Ratliff: The original theory back in 2016 when I was looking into this, someone had said, “Look, he’s got this passport.” The original theory was, oh, maybe this is just a version of Satoshi, like he used the same name on this passport. So I went to the person who got the passport, and they said, “No, no, no. That didn’t come from Le Roux. The corrupt official who made the passport said basically, ‘I’ve got to add a Congolese name on this to make it sound more real.’” That person picked that. I had originally sort of dismissed it as, okay, it’s just a coincidence, they sound kind of similar. It’s bullshit.
Evan Ratliff: But then if you look at the dates, there’s actually another theory that you can concoct, which is that the passport was issued in early August 2008. I checked with Adam Back, who received the first email from Satoshi, and he received that email on like August 20th, 2008. So by this scheme, it’s possible that Le Roux got his prized diplomatic passport, was in the middle of being about to concoct an identity in order to contact people about the bitcoin paper he wanted to release, and he just kind of like futzed with Solotshi, made it Satoshi, and then thought, that sounds Japanese. Now I’m going to add Nakamoto. That would be the theory of the connection between those names.
Aaron Lammer: I’m going to rank that one as inconclusive. There are other weird real life provable overlaps. Calvin Ayre, who is the founder of Bodog, who is now an associate of Craig Wright, at the time was on the run from, I think he was just on the Interpol. I don’t know who was-
Evan Ratliff: He was indicted in the US.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: Which eventually a lot of those charges just were dismissed, so he got out from under that. But for a while, he was under indictment in the US, and sort of on the run. He tried to avoid the US authorities for sure, for some period. I mean, that’s one of the weird ones. The problem is, every time you’re ready to dismiss the theory that Paul Le Roux could be Satoshi, which I think there are reasons to dismiss it, there’s some little coincidence that’s just weird. One of the weird ones is Calvin Ayre. Way back before any of this Craig Wright stuff, before Calvin Ayre’s involvement, and this that and the other, one of Le Roux’s relatives who was a good source of mine, he kept telling me back in 2016, Paul had some connection with Calvin Ayre. That’s what he told me.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: At the time, I didn’t really even pursue it. I mean, Le Roux had connections with all sorts of people. Also, Le Roux had pursued online gambling as a vocation. He originally before pharmaceuticals he wanted to get in on online gambling. In 2008, he had a company he was trying to start in Costa Rica called the Betting Machine, I think it was called, where he was trying to get back into online gambling. He had written online gambling software, in fact. I have talked to people who had seen it, and said it was really sophisticated.
Evan Ratliff: In 2016, Le Roux’s cousin is telling me he knows Calvin Ayre, and he had said he remembered that Le Roux told him he was trying to get a passport for Calvin Ayre. Maybe that makes sense. Calvin Ayre was trying to get a diplomatic passport like Le Roux. I contacted Calvin Ayre through his, he wouldn’t talk, but through his spokesperson. He’s basically like, “I’ve never heard of this person before a few weeks ago. I’ve never heard of Paul Le Roux.” He denies ever knowing him, but it’s interesting to me that that surfaced for me before any of the, it’s not a product of this Satoshi thing. It’s actually something I was told before.
Aaron Lammer: So just triangulating having read your book, Le Roux was a big, big man in the Philippines.
Evan Ratliff: Yes.
Aaron Lammer: He moved weight.
Evan Ratliff: Yes.
Aaron Lammer: He was deep in the government, deep in the police force, kind of knew all of the criminal money moving shit that was happening.
Evan Ratliff: He had call center business.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: All of this sort of gray area to black market businesses, he had ties to through his people or himself.
Aaron Lammer: Big, a lot of people on his payroll.
Evan Ratliff: Yes.
Aaron Lammer: A lot of people making money there. We have a news article from the same time period of Ayre coming to the people in the Philippines, saying he’s setting up a gambling center here or whatever. The idea that Paul Le Roux, another heavily tanned man with a criminal past who is trying to get into gambling-
Evan Ratliff: Paul is actually kind of pasty, to be honest.
Aaron Lammer: Oh, really? I always imagine him kind of well cooked. These two guys, these people who had similar interests, it just seems crazy that Le Roux would have not at least known that he was there and had the opportunity to meet him if he’d wanted to.
Evan Ratliff: Sure.
Aaron Lammer: There’s other things that I didn’t know about that your reporting actually opened up to me, such as that there’s a poker client in the very first build of bitcoin. That’s something I’ve never really heard reported on.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah. It’s weird, it’s kind of like just the front-end it looks like. I talked to a few people about it and sort of verified that it’s a real thing, because at first I wasn’t sure that it was a real thing.
Aaron Lammer: I had to look, like I looked in several books I have about the origins of bitcoin. There’s no poker line in the glossary, poker is not mentioned.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, it gets commented on the software, and then it sort of disappears pretty quickly. It’s like pre the first public release maybe even. I don’t have it in front of me, so I can’t remember exactly what version it is, but it’s before other developers were involved essentially. It’s like pure Satoshi code I think.
Aaron Lammer: Right. Yeah, and it could be something that Satoshi had been working on in parallel to bitcoin, and decided to include in bitcoin because he saw them being used.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, and it makes sense that it would be a place where you would end up using bitcoin. Le Roux had written poker software, online casino software, so that too is sort of like, there’s other ways to explain it. You could say anybody who was writing bitcoin software would think, okay, what are the use cases for this? Online gambling, maybe I’ll do a little online gambling thing, put a little code in there. Then eventually they said, “Well, we don’t want there to be that as part of, the use cases are not part of bitcoin software itself. We expect there to be a universe of those who employ it.” Maybe the philosophy just changed, but it does add sort of to the ledger.
Evan Ratliff: I literally have a spreadsheet that’s like pro and con Le Roux Satoshi. There’s a lot of things on that ledger, including little things like… I’ve read all of Satoshi’s posts, and all of the writings, emails and everything else. It will say things like, “Now at the point where we’ve gotten encryption for the masses, it’s time to turn to digital currency,” essentially is what he’s… And he uses this phrase, encryption for the masses. It’s literally the name of Paul Le Roux’s software that he created.
Evan Ratliff: There’s a lot of little things like that. I didn’t even put them all in the Wired piece, because they’re so circumstantial. They can be explained away by coincidence. You can say, encryption for the masses is a term. The reason that Paul named his software that is that there are other people who used that term. That is a common term. You can get down this hole where you’re lining up evidence, as I did end up down this hole lining up evidence that is potentially all explained away by coincidence.
Aaron Lammer: I was just surprised that each time you gave me a little piece of evidence like that, it tied into some other piece of evidence. Sometimes, one piece of evidence was on the Le Roux side and the other piece of evidence was on the Satoshi side. Such as, you bring up that he wanted to get into gaming in Costa Rica. The first thing I thought of when I heard gaming in Costa Rica is Liberty Reserve. Liberty Reserve is a digital currency that predates bitcoin. It’s centralized. It eventually was shut down. I believe the founder, Arthur Budovsky, is still in prison.
Evan Ratliff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Aaron Lammer: He was raided by the Costa Rican authorities. But a lot of the guy who ran early bitcoin exchanges like the Quadriga people, they were involved in Liberty Reserve dealing. If people wanted to do criminal stuff like gaming or money laundering before bitcoin, a lot of people used Liberty Reserve. They had over one million accounts. You bring this up, and then you’re like, “Oh, Satoshi mentions Liberty Reserve.” There’s a forum post in which Satoshi is talking about the interoperability of bitcoin and Liberty Reserve, because Liberty Reserve has not gotten shut down yet.
Aaron Lammer: Saying like, “Oh, you’ll be able to trade between the two of them,” or “Maybe we should include a way where you can use both.” Again, I don’t think any of this is nails in the coffin, not is it journalistic proof. Maybe what we’re doing is starting to describe a different picture of what kind of a person Satoshi could have been, even if it wasn’t Paul Le Roux. A person who was involved in international crime, and all of the computer code necessary to stay secretive while doing it.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, I think that’s possible. I mean, certainly the thing we haven’t talked about is sort of the timeline.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah, I wanted to get into that.
Evan Ratliff: To answer the question, who is Satoshi, presuming this person has not come forward and is not Craig Wright, let’s just say for the sake of argument. You have to figure out why this person chose to disappear, and you have to figure out why they haven’t moved any of the original mined bitcoin estimated to be roughly a million. Paul Le Roux fits that very well, because there are very good reasons why he would disappear from actively being involved in bitcoin, both because it was starting to draw the attention of the wider world in a way that would make him uncomfortable. Satoshi specifically says he does not like the attention that Wikileaks using bitcoin brought to it in 2010.
Evan Ratliff: Then in 2011, Satoshi disappeared from emailing anyone after Gavin Andresen said that he was going to give a talk in CIA. You could argue that may or may not be the actual reason, but if you line it up, it sort of makes some sense. Paul Le Roux would certainly not want the attention. He already had the attention of intelligence agencies around the world, so he would not want to go anywhere near that. You can see him just being like, I am turning all this off. You could also explain why none of the original mined bitcoins have moved, which is that Paul Le Roux is arrested in 2012. In September 2012, that amount of bitcoins was worth in the tens of millions of dollars, low tens.
Evan Ratliff: I think I calculated it at $12 million or something. It’s not a lot of money for him, and also hard to get liquidity even if it was a lot of money for him at that time. After September 2012, he would not have been able to access and sell it. Maybe he did have access to a computer sometimes, so you could say maybe he would, but not without giving himself away. It makes sense that this person could be in prison. To your wider point, I think the person could be dead, the person could not care at all about money, or the person could be in prison. Those seem like the three possibilities.
Aaron Lammer: Well, and it’s also possible that this person, this Satoshi has other stashes of bitcoin. I like Le Roux, because Le Roux never dipped anywhere near enough zero in his bank account that he would have needed to cash out his bitcoin. I mean, Le Roux is rich many times over from many things. He’s probably still making money without even realizing it. There’s probably some coke operation that the boat’s still going. He wouldn’t have needed the cash, per se.
Aaron Lammer: If he did need the cash, I think based on his general pattern of stashing gold bars all over the world, he probably would have stashed… We don’t know that that 980,000 mined bitcoin that is linked to Satoshi is Satoshi’s only bitcoin. Anyone who was around in early bitcoin could have easily created multiple stashes potentially under multiple names, different places and whatnot. You took this question to a lot of the early bitcoin famous, the literal OGs of bitcoin, and basically showed them what you had and said, “What do you think?” What were the reactions like?
Evan Ratliff: I took it to the ones who would still talk. There have been so many “Who is Satoshi” questions that some of them just refuse to talk about it. Some of them are still game.
Aaron Lammer: Are they still doing that like, “That’s the stupidest question you could ask.”
Evan Ratliff: Sometimes, not dismissively. I would say they actually were pretty generous, the people that I talked to, in terms of being game to listen to some of what I had and say… A lot of them just said, “I don’t think you’re going to figure it out, but like a Breaking Bad Satoshi, that sounds interesting.” They sort of thought, well this is more fun than many of the other theories that people have had. Certainly no one that I talked to could offer any piece of evidence that would disprove that Le Roux could be Satoshi. In fact, the closest anyone came to any sort of, it’s not him, was just saying, “Well, I read your book, and it sounds like he was really busy. How would he have time to do it?”
Evan Ratliff: Which I think in a way is kind of like an argument that disproves itself, because of course when I started looking into him, I thought, oh there’s no way… There were encryption experts who said, “There’s no way he wrote E4M,” when I started. “It’s not the same Paul Le Roux, not the criminal Paul Le Roux. There’s no chance it’s him.” And it was him. I thought, well there’s no way he’s the guy who was involved in Somalia. How would he have time to be involved in Somalia? He’s doing all these other things. He’s clearly a person who had many operations running at once. He barely slept. He worked all the time. He could contact people at any hour of the day. There’s no reason to believe in my mind that he just didn’t have time to do it. He didn’t do anything else.
Aaron Lammer: Satoshi’s actual work on bitcoin is over a pretty limited period of time. It’s not like Satoshi ran bitcoin from when he thought of it till now. It was like an intense burst of activity, and then he passed it off to other people who did a lot of… While I don’t think Hal Finney or Adam Back is Satoshi, they did a lot of work that was necessary for bitcoin to take off. When you actually look at the number of hours you would have thought that Satoshi put into bitcoin, it’s not unreasonable. It’s like a very, very serious hobby.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, and writing the software, I mean who knows how long he spent prior to 2008 writing it? None of them sort of could offer anything. Now I did, Gregory Maxwell agreed to do a code comparison between E4M, the source code of which is still available, and the original bitcoin code.
Aaron Lammer: Maxwell is the CEO of Blockstream, maybe the former CEO of Blockstream?
Evan Ratliff: I think he’s the former CEO now.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: He’s done a lot of bitcoin development. Now of course in all of these things, there’s a whole world of people fighting with each other that doesn’t really interest me. So there will be people out there who were like, “Gregory Maxwell is this or that.”
Aaron Lammer: Of course.
Evan Ratliff: But he to my mind is a respected developer. He worked on the bitcoin core software for a long time. Blockstream, I think he may not be the co-CEO, there’s a founder in any case. He did a code comparison, and he found some things that stylistically did not line up, in the sense that he basically concluded, this could be written by the same person. Their style would have had to have evolved. They’re 10 years apart, so it makes sense that their style would have evolved over 10 years.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah, my hairline has evolved over the same span of time.
Evan Ratliff: But it’s not conclusive one way or the other. He sort of left it saying, “Yeah, it could be him.” I see some flaws in lining the two up, and I kind of outlined a couple of them in the Wired article, but they were pretty technical. That was kind of what most people said that I talked to. They were like, “Sure, it could be him.” The problem which was highlighted in something Gregory Maxwell said to me, where I eventually landed, is the problem with all of this, which is the problem with most of the Satoshi speculation, is that the idea that there is evidence that lines up that he could be Satoshi does not in any way show that he is. That is not proof that he is Satoshi. You could look forever for that evidence, and if he’s not Satoshi you would never find it, but you’d keep lining up things that match up. It’s kind of an endless process that in the end I would certainly say, if you lined up the candidates that have been out there, I would probably bet on Paul Le Roux.
Aaron Lammer: That’s how I feel too, but I wouldn’t bet more than a 1% or 2% chance of it being true, even though I think he’s the market leader.
Evan Ratliff: Because the universe of possible candidates is unknown.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: That’s the problem with all this speculation. Someone wrote an article saying, maybe Neal Stephenson is Satoshi. It was a little bit tongue in cheek, but also, why not? There are plenty of reasons why not, which is like Paul Le Roux was probably a programmer, and Stephenson’s a brilliant writer.
Aaron Lammer: Well, I’ll give you another one. We’ve talked on this show about how the plot of Cryptonomicon prefigures a lot of bitcoin. That’s because Neal Stephenson was hanging out on cipher punk mailing lists, where Satoshi was probably hanging out, and Satoshi probably read Cryptonomicon. He’s a dork. Every dork who was born in 1970 and passed, read Cryptonomicon. You’re describing a archetype that literally encompasses everyone who got into open source programming. They all read Cryptonomicon.
Evan Ratliff: Yes, and that’s the problem, which is that Paul Le Roux has the skills, he has the motivation, the timeline lines up, there’s some weird connections that line up. So all of that exists, but without knowing how many possible C++ encryption minded programmers who have a similar philosophy there are out there, it’s almost meaningless to say that. If there are 150,000 of them, then so what? If there are 10 people who actually fit that, then wow, at best you’ve got a 10% shot at it. I think where I landed was sort of looking at the kind of logical fallacy of trying to prove something in this way.
Aaron Lammer: Beyond the logical fallacy, which I agree with, there’s one other asterisk I put on Paul Le Roux that I think I would put on all of those people who are the top 10 betting favorites, if there was someone who knew as much about them as you know about Le Roux. You know about as much about Le Roux as a person can possibly know about another person. You’ve spent five plus years, no, but-
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, five years.
Aaron Lammer: Five years of your life dedicated to understanding Paul Le Roux. You’ve talked to his relatives. You have chat transcripts. You’ve talked to his employees. This is in a computer era where it’s harder to hide things because they’re sitting on a server somewhere. In all of that, not one slip up, not one email where he’s like, “Bitcoin is pretty cool.” Not one email where he’s like saying, “Hey, I have a new programming project for you, Romanian hacker.” These are literally people he was in touch with who you’ve been in touch with.
Evan Ratliff: Oh yeah, and not even that. Not even a slip up, he never even used GMX, the mail server that Satoshi uses, the mail service. Never used it at all, and I have a lot of Paul Le Roux email, all the different emails that he used.
Aaron Lammer: It has a totally different email methodology, which again, if we’re getting into people came into Craig Wright’s server in the middle of the night and changed things around, that could be true. He could have been perfect. But the main quality of Satoshi that I’ve always noticed was that he didn’t screw up. The way these people get caught and the Silk road or whatever, it’s early on before you knew it was going to be a thing, you screwed up and posted on a forum with your real email address instead of the fake email address, whatever. In the years of software development, there’s just thousands of opportunities to make a small mistake. Paul Le Roux is the mastermind. He’s not a mistake prone person.
Evan Ratliff: But he clearly made at least one enormous mistake, which is he got lured into a trap and was arrested by the DEA.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: His record is not 100%.
Aaron Lammer: It’s not 100%, and I just feel that you’ve acquired so much of the Paul Le Roux archive that I would expect there to be a smoking gun. If I could have access to all the other candidates in as much detail as you’ve created around Paul Le Roux, I would feel more comfortable saying, “It’s them,” or “It’s not them.” The case you’ve made for Le Roux is incredibly compelling, and I also agree with your general logical fallacy case. But the reason I probably still in my heart conclude that it’s not him is I think you would have found a clue. I think there would have been a clue somewhere in here.
Evan Ratliff: I’d like to think so. That’s what set me off on spending the last month looking into it again, was sort of this sheer embarrassment that would come from the fact that if we was Satoshi and I had not found that clue. I have hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. I have all of his companies. I have emails, I have chat transcripts. There’s nothing even that just pops up as a tiny connection, like the original bitcoin website was registered through this thing called Anonymous Speech. It was like a domain reseller.
Evan Ratliff: There’s no connection to that anywhere in thousands and thousands of domain related pieces of data that I have. I agree with you. I feel like you can always say, “Well, that’s the whole point. He was being perfect. Only use that email once for Satoshi. Don’t use it for anything else. Only use that domain registry once.” That’s good OPSEC, as you would say today. Clearly, Satoshi was someone who could do that, but the amount of information that I have on Paul Le Roux it just would be very surprising to me that no one ever came across it ever.
Aaron Lammer: Have you ever talked to Paul Le Roux?
Evan Ratliff: No, I haven’t. I’ve seen him testify on a number of occasions. I mean, he was held in extreme secrecy for a long time, because he was part of sting operations that the DEA was employing against his former henchmen. I’ve never talked to him. He’s never spoken outside of his testimony, which is very extensive. He talked about a lot of things in there. Partly because he hasn’t been sentenced, so his cooperation is relevant to his sentencing, and he would be frankly a fool to mess that up by talking publicly at this point. He’s a month away from sentencing. I’ve never even gotten a response from his lawyer in terms of requests to talk to him.
Aaron Lammer: To bring this whole thing full circle, how did Paul Le Roux end up in Craig Wright’s court case?
Evan Ratliff: Well, that’s a mystery. I’ve just written a long story about it. I feel like that’s an outstanding mystery that I’m debating whether to try and solve. I can give you the possible theories. One theory would be that Craig Wright knew Paul Le Roux, possibly connected to online gambling circles. Craig Wright was involved in online gaming software to a certain extent.
Aaron Lammer: He’s also turned heel now and said that he is Satoshi, but he disavows bitcoin because it’s being used for all this vice.
Evan Ratliff: Yes, he’s anti-vice now. The theory would be they did know each other, somehow Craig Wright was involved in maybe going to the authorities about him, talking to the authorities about him. I knew he wasn’t involved in setting him up. If that’s the claim, that’s just false, because I know how he was set up. I know the DEA agents who tracked Paul Le Roux for five years. I asked them if they ever heard of Craig Wright, any type of software invented by Craig Wright, Dave Kleiman, any of that stuff. They’re all like, “No, there’s nothing there.” So if that’s the claim, it’s not true.
Aaron Lammer: You also know what Craig Wright was up to during that same time period. There’s a Lemon Review of Books article that’s like showing his movements. He was not out at night helping people catch criminals during that time.
Evan Ratliff: Well, yeah, but that was a little later.
Aaron Lammer: Oh, that was-
Evan Ratliff: The [crosstalk 01:02:35] thing was like 2014, 2015 I think.
Aaron Lammer: Oh, okay.
Evan Ratliff: But yes, in that I don’t believe that there is that connection as it sort of implies in there, but I think it’s possible that they knew each other. Maybe even Calvin Ayre was involved in the three of them knowing each other. There’s some reason why that is connected to bitcoin. There’s also the possibility that they knew each other, and it has absolutely nothing to do with bitcoin. Frankly if you’re going to believe the filing, the filing says it has nothing to do with bitcoin. It’s not clear to me why you would believe Craig Wright that he knew Paul Le Roux or helped Paul Le Roux get arrested, or anything else, but then disbelieve him that it’s connected to bitcoin. You know what I mean?
Aaron Lammer: Yeah.
Evan Ratliff: Why not just believe both at that point? Then there’s the possibility that they never knew each other, that Craig Wright has somehow put forth this as a way to, I don’t know what, float another theory. Maybe the thing was un-redacted on purpose. You can read every kind of crazy theory about it these days. I think either they knew each other and it had something to do with bitcoin, either they knew each other and it had nothing to do with bitcoin, or they never knew each other and this is something that’s weirdly gotten inserted into the lawsuit maybe based on fraudulent documents.
Evan Ratliff: One of the things that’s mysterious is the opposition lawyers asked him this question, that he refused to answer. Clearly, somewhere in their discovery they found the name Paul Le Roux. That seems implied to me. It’s in there somewhere, how it got in there, maybe some hackers broke in in the night and put it in there. That may be waiting for more documents to come out in the lawsuit.
Aaron Lammer: Well, I’ll tell you my unsubstantiated theories on the matter, which these predate the Le Roux as Satoshi thing. In fact, they were the first thing I think me and you talked about when you were like, “Hey, I woke up to some weird news.”
Evan Ratliff: Aaron, please tell me about cryptocurrency. My inbox is flooded with questions about it.
Aaron Lammer: Actually, I never thought about, your book publisher must really hope that Le Roux is Satoshi.
Evan Ratliff: Probably, if you could append, just change the subtitle to like, “The Inventor of Bitcoin.”
Aaron Lammer: Satoshi, call him the mastermind.
Evan Ratliff: It would be great for sales.
Aaron Lammer: My original thought was, okay, so I followed Craig Wright pretty closely, because I enjoy entertainment. There’s two things that Craig Wright has been pushing on really hard for like the last six months to a year. One is, “You can’t prove I’m not Satoshi,” continually phrased that way. Not, “I am,” but “I’m provably as much Satoshi as anyone else could claim.” He’s doing it in this weird linguistic way. This is around him trying to get patents for various blockchainy bitcoin elements. It’s never fully elaborated. It’s always based on his research. I don’t know about you, I’ve never actually encountered any of what Craig Wright’s research is or what’s going on there. I know that Craig Wright is widely believed to have almost no programming talent, so whatever research he’s doing is just like-
Evan Ratliff: I’m going to let you theorize on that.
Aaron Lammer: He’s also joined forces with Calvin Ayre pretty publicly.
Evan Ratliff: That’s definitely true, and [inaudible 01:05:44] and BSV.
Aaron Lammer: Yeah. They have business connections, they’re both pushing BSV, which is their fork of a fork that basically is just them at this point. They’re like the last mariachi band playing the BSV, although BSV is wildly up this year, so go figure. My thought was always, somehow Craig Wright knows who Satoshi is, maybe through Ayre, and knows Satoshi can’t come forward. In a game theory situation in which a person can never reveal themselves, you can say you’re that person and no one can ever prove you’re wrong. Because to prove them wrong you have to show that someone else is Satoshi. The Ayre thing cuts every which way, because early gambling is just like in bed with bitcoin. There’s a million different connections.
Aaron Lammer: Whether it’s Le Roux or it’s someone else from this criminal gambling vice world, somehow Ayre knows who they are, and they’re either dead, they’re in jail, they can’t come forward. He and Wright have a plan to legally assert that Wright is the inventor of bitcoin to gain some sort of a patent advantage or create some value out of that. That all kind of makes sense to me. There’s a bunch of things that Wright has been doing towards that end, like saying that he started bitcoin but then it got full of people who were using it for crime and child porn, so he left. Which is totally discordant with his actual history with bitcoin. But it’s all making this case. It’s almost like he knows, and this is crazy, I’m just spit balling here, but it’s almost like he knows that the solution of who Satoshi is, is a criminal.
Aaron Lammer: Therefore, they’re creating an alternate theory that they invented it as like crime stoppers. I do think people are more comfortable, why do people gravitate towards the idea that Satoshi is an American math professor? Because that’s what people want. That would be okay. If Satoshi turns out to be like living in Northampton, and he’s been leading the quiet life, that would be okay for bitcoin. If it turns out that it’s an international criminal mastermind, I don’t think that’s very good for bitcoin prices. There’s a lot of powerful interests holding a lot of bitcoin who stand to gain or lose a fortune based on something like that.
Evan Ratliff: Well, I just want to make clear that’s the Aaron Lammer theory.
Aaron Lammer: That’s the Aaron Lammer theory.
Evan Ratliff: I think I would only respond to that by saying, I don’t know how, if it were somehow proven it was Paul Le Roux, what that would even do if anything to the bitcoin price at this point. I mean, it’s so divorced, and this is what people say, who say like, “Who care if he’s Satoshi.” I think it’s inherently interesting who Satoshi is. Whether it would affect the bitcoin price if you just knew who the person was, there’s so many candidates. How would you even prove it? I talked to Laszlo, I’m going to butcher his last name so I’m not even going to say it, but Laszlo who is like-
Aaron Lammer: Laszlo the guy who bought the bitcoin pizza.
Evan Ratliff: Yeah, that’s what he’s most kind of famous for, but I didn’t even talk to him about that. I was talking to him about his correspondence with Satoshi, because he did a lot of early development. One of the things he said to me, which is in the Wired piece, “Would anyone believe anyone at this point?” Satoshi is like Jesus. He’d like come back to Earth, and people would be like, “No, it’s not you.” It’s like religion. I’m not sure it would even move the price.
Evan Ratliff: The good news is, Paul Le Roux was involved in this online pharmaceutical network, and basically the whole thing ended up being dismantled, and people went to prison for it, including him. But telemedicine, the thing that Paul Le Roux was doing, is a huge, huge multi-billion dollar business almost in exactly the way he was doing it. I feel like that offers a lesson for bitcoin that, even if it was Paul Le Roux or a similar master criminal, it’s possible for the idea to survive the creation by a potentially horrible person.
Aaron Lammer: I think that was ultimately a bullish take there at the end, so I like it. We’ve got to end on that one. Thank you so much. We’ve got to tape a intro for our other podcast. Evan and I host a podcast together, it’s called the Longform Podcast. Check that out if you like the journalism side of things more than the unsubstantiated theories about who Satoshi is.
Evan Ratliff: On the one hand, I hope that I can come back on Coin Talk. On the other hand, I hope that I never have to come back on Coin Talk.
Aaron Lammer: Well, I’m going to say this. If you want to go to the Craig Wright trial, we will fly you there. If you want to be our special Craig Wright correspondent, where is the trial? It’s in Florida somewhere?
Evan Ratliff: It’s in Florida, yeah.
Aaron Lammer: It sounds delightful. Bring the whole family. Evan’s book is called The Mastermind. It may or may not have to have an extra chapter tacked on at the end, but it’s pretty awesome already. It’s crazy that Paul Le Roux might be Satoshi, and you can write a whole book about him that doesn’t even include, like he has enough life narrative to go-
Evan Ratliff: I encourage people to go buy the book and scour it for evidence that I have not found.
Aaron Lammer: I like this. It’s a mystery that you can solve at home, but the decoder ring is The Mastermind out now by Evan Ratliff. Thanks for coming on.
Evan Ratliff: Thanks, Aaron.