The Times: An army interpreter who translated for the senior British commander in Afghanistan plotted to become a secret agent for Iran because he was passed over for promotion, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.
Michael Evans, Defence Editor
An army interpreter who translated for the senior British commander in Afghanistan plotted to become a secret agent for Iran because he was passed over for promotion, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.
Daniel James, 45, an Iranian-born corporal in the Territorial Army, was working for General (now Sir) David Richards, commander of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in 2006, when he decided to switch allegiance to Tehran, the jury heard.
Mr James – who changed his name by deed poll from Esmail Mohammed Beigi Gamasai in 1997 – sent e-mails and telephoned Colonel Mohammad Hossein Heydari, a military assistant at the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, over a period of months, it was alleged.
Mark Dennis, QC, for the prosecution, said that some of the e-mails were in code and that Mr James had created a new e-mail address to be used only for communicating with his Iranian contact.
Mr Dennis said that the defendant had “deliberately chosen to act prejudiciously to the safety and the interests of this country”.
Mr James is charged under section 1 of the 1911 Official Secrets Act with communicating information to another person that could be useful to an enemy and with collecting documents useful to an enemy. He is also charged with wilful misconduct in public office contrary to Common Law. He denies all three charges.
Mr Dennis said Mr James had acquired two “Nato-confidential” military situation reports relating to operational matters carried out by Isaf troops in Afghanistan and had downloaded them on to a USB storage device. They included details of patrols, fuel storage sites and numbers of detained Taleban.
It was not known whether Mr James had passed the two reports to his Iranian contact, but the material was of a kind that would be of value to anyone trying “to sell himself as an agent to a foreign power”.
“Information from within Isaf would be of obvious interest, putting in jeopardy the operations and objectives, and putting at risk the lives of UK and other Isaf military personnel,” Mr Dennis said. The defendant had also taken seven photographs of a Predator unmanned spy plane in its hangar.
As a personal interpreter to General Richards, Mr James held a “very trusted and sensitive position”, able to “overhear and glean a good deal of operational or strategic information if he chose to do so”.
On November 2, 2006, the defendant sent an e-mail to Colonel Heydari in which he revealed the whereabouts of a military camp on the northern Iran/Iraq border.
It concluded “I am at your service” and was signed off: “Esmail, the interpreter.”
In another e-mail he wrote: “If one day I write to you and say weather is very cold, I mean time does not allow me to be in contact with you at those times, till such time that it is safe.”
On December 18 he sent another e-mail in which he wrote: “I have a very good present for you as well.”
Mr Dennis told the jury: “The allegation in this case is that during the latter part of 2006, the defendant’s loyalty to this country wavered and his loyalties turned to Iran, the country of his birth.
“He turned his back on those with whom he was serving in Afghanistan and sought to become an agent for a foreign power, and to provide information which would or might be of use to those who were actually engaged in active conflict with the peacekeeping force.”
Mr Dennis said that the defendant had not been driven by politics or ideology but had become bitter about his lack of promotion and had begun to complain that he was a victim of racial discrimination.
Described as an extrovert, with grandiose ideas about himself and his own self-importance, he was also “something of a Walter Mitty character who would no doubt find his new clandestine role as something exciting and special”.
Mr Dennis said that the concern was “not so much the actual damage done by the known disclosure of information but in the potential damage that could have occurred if the defendant’s activities had not been curtailed by his early detection and arrest”.
After his arrest at RAF Brize Norton when he was returning to Afghanistan after a two-week break, Mr James denied passing on sensitive information, and said that he had been set up by someone who hated him.
The trial continues.