I’m about to tell you the true story of the greatest of the crypto projects… a story you’ve never heard. It took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was a massive experiment and one that had a serious impact on what came after. I almost wish I still had my donors list, because I’d love to see if my favorite Satoshi candidates were on it. (I was one of very few people who had the list, but I destroyed it on principle once I no longer needed it.)
This project had more or less anything you would imagine it having and much more besides. My brief history of it runs to six installments, but many times that many could be written. I’m covering only the highlights and mainly from my own perspective. But my perspective was a useful one, especially because I oversaw the investigations that closed out the project.
Unlike some of my other stories, this one is not fiction.
And so, here’s my brief explanation of the project:
We had perhaps the best financial mind of his generation, who became a cryptographer after seeing the true face of the beast. We had the second Linux developer. We had hundreds of the most serious libertarians and objectivists. We had Gorbachev’s translator. We had abandoned spies, both American and Russian. We had our own newspaper. We had our own restaurant, and a good one. We even had an honest-to-God, authentic embassy. We had a wild collection of geniuses, near-geniuses, and trying-to-look-like geniuses.
The wildest of the bunch (a guy whose life alternated between quasi-scams and the Pentecostal Church) pumped millions of his own dollars into the project. He had run for governor in Nevada once and didn’t do too badly. Then, when things got rough for him, he got his silver out of the country by having it turned into a set of sculptures entitled, The Butchers and Bastards of History, which included, as I recall, likenesses of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Lenin, and Bill Clinton.
Dull, this project was not.
And in the end we produced a fully functional, end-to-end encrypted financial system, complete with holding corps, a stock market, and futures options. It all functioned with anonymous digital bearer certificates (aka digital coins). On top of that, we had a functioning dispute resolution system that resolved a number of commercial disputes. We had PGP-encrypted webmail and a fully encrypted news/forum/messaging system designed to be decentralized.
And all this happened by the end of 2002, a solid six years before Bitcoin.
From this project came the first VPNs and anonymity services, cyber law, Yodelbank, and several early Bitcoiners. Some of the people involved became I2P developers, e-gold operators, the first Seasteaders, and I’m not sure what else.
For better or worse, this project accomplished things. It was a grand and tumultuous season of doing, rather than sitting around and pontificating, which is what most people were up to at the time.
To be Continued…