A long-standing theory suggesting the involvement of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) in the creation of Bitcoin has resurfaced recently. This theory gained new attention after Daniel Roberts, co-founder of Iris Energy, posted screenshots of a 1996 research paper titled “How to Make a Mint: The Cryptography of Anonymous Electronic Cash.” Notably, this paper outlines a concept strikingly similar to Bitcoin, proposing the use of public-key cryptography for anonymous electronic payments.
Reaffirmation of the NSA connection
Prominent Bitcoin advocate Nic Carter, a partner at Castle Island Ventures, has publicly expressed his support for this theory. Carter termed it the “Bitcoin lab leak hypothesis” and believes that Bitcoin may have originated as a classified NSA project, possibly an internal research and development endeavor. He suggests that one of the researchers may have released the code without NSA authorization to ensure its preservation and maintain anonymity.
Carter is not alone in his belief. Matthew Pines, director of intelligence at cybersecurity firm Krebs Stamos, speculates that Bitcoin could be the result of a collaboration between NSA cryptographers and cypherpunk enthusiasts. However, he emphasizes that Bitcoin’s creation and white paper were likely not officially sanctioned by the NSA.
Former Goldman Sachs executive Raoul Pal has also put forth a theory implicating the U.S. and U.K. governments, specifically the NSA and the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), as the inventors of Bitcoin. Pal believes these agencies, renowned for their cryptography expertise, played a pivotal role in Bitcoin’s creation.
In contrast, former NSA cryptanalyst Jeff Man considers it “feasible” that the NSA could have created Bitcoin for intelligence-gathering purposes but expresses skepticism about it being a deliberate creation. Man believes that the true origins of Bitcoin may never be definitively uncovered.
The core piece of evidence fueling this theory is the 1996 research paper titled “How to Make a Mint: The Cryptography of Anonymous Electronic Cash.” Notably, this paper was prepared by individuals identified as NSA employees, with contributions from cryptography expert Tatsuaki Okamoto, known for co-inventing the Okamoto–Uchiyama public key cryptosystem in 1998.
Carter and other proponents of the theory draw attention to the eerie similarity between the name “Tatsuaki Okamoto” and “Satoshi Nakamoto,” the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin. While this connection is intriguing, Carter downplays its significance in the overall theory.
Carter’s notion of a “Bitcoin lab leak” posits that a researcher involved in the NSA project may have acted independently, releasing the Bitcoin code into the public domain without the agency’s consent. This action, according to Carter, was motivated by a desire to ensure that the revolutionary technology didn’t remain hidden within government confines and to safeguard the anonymity of the creator.
Carter acknowledges the existence of circumstantial evidence that supports this theory, although concrete proof remains elusive.
The government’s role in Bitcoin’s creation
While theories linking government agencies to Bitcoin’s creation continue to circulate, it’s important to highlight that no conclusive evidence has emerged to substantiate these claims. The cryptographic community remains divided on the issue, with some experts leaning towards the possibility of government involvement and others maintaining skepticism.
The allure of attributing Bitcoin’s creation to powerful entities like the NSA or the GCHQ lies in the perception of immense cryptographic expertise within these organizations. However, the decentralized nature of Bitcoin and its development community often contradicts the notion of centralized control.
As the debate surrounding the origins of Bitcoin persists, it is essential to recognize that the true story may forever remain a mystery. The decentralized and pseudonymous nature of the cryptocurrency makes it challenging to definitively trace its creation back to any single individual or entity.
Jeff Man’s assertion that the world may never discover the full story behind Bitcoin’s inception underscores the complexity of the issue. As Bitcoin continues to evolve and shape the global financial landscape, the focus may shift from its origins to its broader impact and potential.