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British Interpreter 'Became Spy For Iran,' Court Hears

LONDON (Reuters) -- A soldier who worked in "a unique" role for Britain's top commander in Afghanistan became a spy for Iran after missing out on promotion and suffering what he perceived as racism, a court has heard.

Corporal Daniel James, 45, contacted Iranian officials in Kabul while working in "a very trusted and sensitive position" as interpreter for General David Richards, the British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, prosecutors said.

"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," prosecutor Mark Dennis said. "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."

He has been described as something of a Walter Mitty character who would no doubt find his new clandestine role something exciting and special.
The court was told James made telephone contact with Colonel Mohammad Hossein Heydari, who worked as Iran's military attache at its embassy in Kabul and sent him coded messages in e-mails.

"He had access to areas and information that no other soldier of corporal rank ... would have, due to his working alongside the general," Dennis said.

'Unique Position'

James was in "a unique position to overhear and glean a good deal of operational or strategic information if he chose to do so," he said. "As General Richards himself puts it, the defendant's value as a hostile intelligence agent to a third party with aims contrary to that of the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and the government of Afghanistan cannot be underestimated."

He was arrested in December 2006, a few months after contact had been made. Police found a USB computer memory storage device in his kitbag with confidential documents, including details of military troop movements and knowledge of insurgent activities.

"The reports are provided on a 'need-to-know' basis and the defendant was undoubtedly not one such person," Dennis said.

The court heard that James, who became a British citizen in 1986 and previously worked as a salsa dance teacher in Brighton, southern England, believed certain officers had been racist and had prevented him being promoted to sergeant.

He was also said to be a fantasist.

"He has been described as something of a Walter Mitty character who would no doubt find his new clandestine role something exciting and special," Dennis said. "The concern in this case is not so much the actual damage done...but in the potential damage that could have occurred if the defendant's activities had not been curtailed by his early detection and arrest."

James denies three charges under the Official Secrets Act of communicating and collecting information likely to be useful to an enemy, and wilful misconduct in a public office. The trial continues.