Iran General NewsTop British Army aide accused of spying

Top British Army aide accused of spying

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Daily Telegraph: A military aide to the commander of British forces in Afghanistan appeared in court yesterday accused of spying.
The Daily Telegraph

By Duncan Gardham, Philip Johnston and Thomas Harding

A military aide to the commander of British forces in Afghanistan appeared in court yesterday accused of spying.

Cpl Daniel James, 44, is charged under the 1911 Official Secrets Act with “prejudicing the safety of the state” by passing information “calculated to be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy”.

It was said he had communicated with a “foreign power” in the incident on Nov 2, believed to be Iran.

Most of the hearing at Westminster magistrates’ court yesterday was held in secret and no mention was made of James’s job or his address.

But The Daily Telegraph has learned that he acts as an interpreter for Gen David Richards, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan and one of the most senior officers in the Army.

If the trial goes ahead, it will be the first espionage prosecution under Section 1 of the 1911 Act for a generation.

The last involved Michael Bettany, an MI5 officer who was jailed for 23 years in 1984 for passing information to the Soviet Union.

The charges are as grave as can be and any trial would almost certainly be at the Old Bailey, with the prosecution led by the Attorney General.

In court yesterday, James stood with his hands behind his back, dressed in a green anorak and white T-shirt, and flanked by two dock officers. He spoke only to answer “Yes, sir”, when asked to confirm his name.

The court then went into private session for an hour. Afterwards, Judge Timothy Workman said: “I have heard some details which I am satisfied that were they to be published would be prejudicial to national security.”

He said the prosecution was asking for an adjournment to obtain the Attorney General’s consent for the prosecution.

There was no application for bail and James was remanded in custody for a week.

James is of Iranian descent and speaks fluent Pashtun, the main language in Afghanistan, making him invaluable to the Army which is very short of translators.

Neighbours at his £800,000 house in Brighton, said his mother speaks only Farsi, the main language of Iran.

In a recent interview for a Forces magazine, James spoke of the battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

“Any verbal contact is better than no contact,” he said. “Patrols help civilians see troops in a good light.

“If you see a strange man with a gun, you automatically think of him as hostile. If he smiles and asks you how you are doing or for directions, you will think differently of him.

“Nine out of 10 people start treating me as one of their own and actually help me as much as they possibly can with information when I speak their native language.”

Gen Richards commands 31,000 troops, including special forces, and has regular contact with President Hamid Karzai. A military source said the amount of information James would have known would have depended on the type of relationship he had with Gen Richards.

An officer said: “The driver or interpreter would have no official access to documents but a lot of generals use drivers as a sounding board and as someone neutral to talk to.”

Another senior officer said: “The driver or interpreter would pick up a hell of a lot. He would be able to listen to encrypted phone calls that would be highly sensitive and of course as an interpreter he would be privy to an immense amount of knowledge.

“He probably knows more than half the senior staff officers in many ways.”

It is thought James was arrested in the past few days after an investigation by MI5’s counter-espionage section on his return to Britain. Officers were said to be checking his computers and email traffic.

The charges suggest breaches involving highly restricted material. While espionage includes passing military secrets, it could involve diplomatic or political information detrimental to the nation’s security.

Iran’s attempts to manufacture nuclear weapons and its position between Iraq and Afghanistan make Kabul strategically critical. Some insurgents in Iraq are said to be armed by fellow Shias in Iran.

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