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

James Cortada jcortada at umn.edu
Fri Dec 9 09:00:46 PST 2022

I guess I need to volunteer some help.  Professor Irani, I am the author of
a fat history of IBM and while I am not familiar with the specifics of the
Iranian story, I can probably get you far closer to it than might others
and I can certainly brief you on the Russian smuggling as that was a real
and serious problem in the 1970s.  Perhaps we can chat by phone
608-274-6382 (Central Time Zone) or by zoom.  BTW, I am in my office right
now.  Jim Cortada

On Fri, Dec 9, 2022 at 10:54 AM Lilly Irani via Members <
members at lists.sigcis.org> wrote:

> Hello!
> 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
> department.
> 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
> http://quote.ucsd.edu/lirani/
> http://justtransitions.ucsd.edu/
> Books: Redacted <https://tallercalifornia.cargo.site/Libros> (Taller
> California 2021) | Chasing Innovation
> <https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691175140/chasing-innovation> (Princeton
> 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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James W. Cortada
Senior Research Fellow
Charles Babbage Institute
University of Minnesota
jcortada at umn.edu
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