[SIGCIS-Members] Question about IBM in Iran, 1970s

Lilly Irani lirani at ucsd.edu
Fri Dec 9 08:33:07 PST 2022


I come to you all with a question about IBM in Iran in the 1970s. A SIGCIS
colleague suggested this list is a generous space filled with IBM experts.

I have an old family story told to me by my family about IBM dumping
computers into the ocean to maintain secrecy of its engineering designs. I
am looking for help either corroborating it or understanding what really
happened, as the person who told me the story no longer remembers it.

Longer version with context: My mom worked at IBM in Tehran in the 1970s in
customer support phone answering, then in a program room where clients
would bring code tape/reels to process, and finally in a procurement

I remember my mom telling me a story about IBM throwing computers in Iran
into the ocean when they were disposed of because they did not want
Iranians to learn how to build their own computer.

Now she doesn't remember this. I interviewed my mom about what she did
remember. She talked about the Shah asking IBM to manufacture computers in
Iran in the 1970s and IBM rebuffed him. She also said that IBM probably
didn't want the Soviets to get access to computers and Iran shares a 2000
mile border with Iran so that might be why they'd dump computers in the
ocean but they'd do it in the gulf, not the caspian which bordered the USSR.

*Can the IBM experts in this community advise me on where or how I might
inquire into these dynamics of secrecy and refusal to tech transfer, but
also specifically into how IBM did dispose of computers during this period
in Iran or similar locations?*

Thank you so much,
Lilly Irani
UC San Diego, Communication & Science Studies

Lilly Irani
Associate Professor, Communication & Science Studies
Co-Director, Just Transitions Initiative
Faculty, Design Lab
Affiliate Faculty, Computer Science
Member, Institute for Practical Ethics

Books: Redacted <https://tallercalifornia.cargo.site/Libros> (Taller
California 2021) | Chasing Innovation
University Press 2019)

I respectfully acknowledge that we live and work on the unceded territory
of the Kumeyaay Nation that spans across and precedes the US-Mexico border.
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