Meet Dom, the inadvertent spy on Iran

Iran, always leery when it comes to espionage, has taken a number of steps to fend off would-be spies. The latest came just yesterday, with the announcement of an "Islamic" alternative to Google Earth -- the ironically named Basir (spectator). But there's one thing Tehran didn't plan on: Dom.

Dom is a U.K. resident who had his laptop stolen from his London apartment two months ago. But luckily for him -- and us -- he'd installed an application that tracks the location of his laptop and even sends back screenshots of it being used.

Where did the computer end up? Nearly two months after the burglary it appeared in the heart of Tehran:

The Telegraph, which identifies Dom as an animator named Dom del Toro, explains that del Toro reported the theft to British police, who claimed they couldn't do anything since Iran was outside their jurisdiction. He then set up a Tumblr blog -- the aptly named, Dom's laptop is in Iran -- where he's been posting pictures of the Tehrani woman currently using his computer.

We learn about her taste in music:

And even her interest in Jenga:

Hidden App claims to work by taking "real time photos of the thief and screenshots of them using your computer" -- all "without them knowing you're watching." Unless, that is, you post the images on the Internet.


Fake fake news: The Iranian time machine

A good rule of thumb for news in the Internet age: If there's a "Ha, ha, silly foreigners" story circulating on the Internet, and if 90 percent of the people writing about it are citing the Telegraph, it's probably mostly fake, or at least highly misleading. (See Putin's Boyz II Men booty call or Sarkozy's fromage fatwa.)

I suspect this is the case with the story of an Iranian scientist claiming to have invented a time machine, which has been making the rounds today. (To be clear, I realize that no one actually thinks he did invent the time machine. I'm disputing whether or not the news story is real.) 

The Telegraph story that kicked all this off reports:

Ali Razeghi, a Tehran scientist has registered "The Aryayek Time Traveling Machine" with the state-run Centre for Strategic Inventions.

The device can predict the future in a print out after taking readings from the touch of a user, he told the Fars state newsagency.

Razaeghi, 27, said the device worked by a set of complex algorithims to "predict five to eight years of the future life of any individual, with 98 percent accuracy".

As the managing director of Iran's Centre for Strategic Inventions, Razeghi is a serial inventor with 179 other inventions listed under his own name. "I have been working on this project for the last 10 years," he said.

"My invention easily fits into the size of a personal computer case and can predict details of the next 5-8 years of the life of its users. It will not take you into the future, it will bring the future to you."

Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post reports that the original Fars item has now disappeared. There is also a Farsi interview with Razeghi on another site. (Here's a Google-translated version -- it's hard to tell but the tone of the interview seems somewhat incredulous and mocking.)

After that things only get murkier. The "Centre for Strategic Inventions" sounds official, and gives the impression that some sort of legitimate Iranian organization is endorsing this claim, but a Google search for references to it without "time machine" doesn't turn up anything. There is a "Center for Strategic Research," but that seems to be a foreign-policy think tank. 

If you search for the original article's Farsi name for the center, which Google translates as "Inventors and innovators in strategic guidance center," you just get items about the time machine, including some expressing outrage that Western news outlets are picking up on this story. 

If Ali Razeghi were a prominent scientist, one would expect he would turn up relatively high on a Google search. But he seems to be outranked by some Tehran bro's social media profile.

So until I see evidence to the contrary, I'm going to assume that if this story is true at all, it's actually just about one obscure crank saying ridiculous things -- a phenomenon that is hardly unique to Iran.

Update: A second interview, translated here by Arash Karami of Al-Monitor makes clear that no one every actually claimed to have invented a time machine, just an "a kind of agent-based modeling program that would predict an outcome given a set a of circumstances or situations."

Even that claim seems a lot more dodgy the more we learn about Razeghi -- or is it Zareghi?:

Zareghi also wouldn’t answer questions about his education background. When asked he said that he had “10 years of research history.” When pressed two more times about his degree, Zareghi finally said, “Education has nothing to do with this issue.”

As far as his “state-run Center for Strategic Inventions” that most Western media reported as the center of all of his research and 179 inventions, it’s a private company run by Zareghi himself. He said that he has registered his “time machine” with his own company but has not yet taken it to official government agencies for registration or approval.