By Michael Evans
November 7, 2008
The unmasking of an Iranian spy who was working as a British general.s
personal interpreter has become an embarrassing espionage fiasco raising
questions about the screening for sensitive military posts.
Corporal Daniel James, 45, who had been security-vetted to work
alongside General Sir David Richards when he was commander of Nato's
International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan in 2006,
was yesterday remanded in custody after being convicted of spying for
The jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict on two other
Security sources said the actions of James, who was born in Tehran, had
been a serious embarrassment for the British Army and undermined
relations with allies, who might feel constrained from sharing future
James had seemed to be a loyal member of the Territorial Army, and
defence sources confirmed that he had been vetted before he joined the
TA in 1987 and when he was selected to act as interpreter to General
Richards, who is to succeed as Chief of the General Staff in August next
Thorough checks on his background, however, should have uncovered
certain features of his lifestyle which might have raised the alarm. He
had strong ties to Tehran where his family still lived after the Islamic
revolution, he had kept his Iranian passport even after becoming a
British citizen in 1986, he was 25,000 in debt, and he practised black
Ministry of Defence sources said there had been nothing in the security
checks to indicate that James was anything other than slightly odd. "He
was regarded as an oddball but harmless and he had all the right
clearances," one MoD source said.
MI5 counter-espionage officers were called in to investigate James after
it was discovered he had been sending e-mails and making telephone calls
to Colonel Mohammad Hossein Heydari, a military assistant at the Iranian
Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Although his espionage ambitions
were preempted before he could become a fully fledged secret agent for
Iran, his contacts with Colonel Heydari - and the sensitive documents he
was found to have stored on a USB computer memory stick - caused a
Security sources said it was not just the content of the e-mails and
telephone calls that raised the alarm, but the wider implications of a
British soldier in a confidential position being prepared to divulge
information without authority.
The prosecution said James had two "Nato-confidential" military
situation reports about troop movements and fuel stocks in Afghanistan
stored on a USB device. The jury was told that he had no right to
possess the reports. In one e-mail to Colonel Heydari, he wrote: "I have
a very good present for you."
The security sources said that the unauthorised communication with a
potential enemy and suspected passing of confidential information to a
third party broke the rules governing the handling of sensitive
The realisation that James was a fantasist who believed he could
personally bring peace to Afghanistan by indulging in his own form of
diplomacy - handing out business cards to Afghan ministers and to the
Iranian Ambassador in Kabul - was also a deep embarrassment to the Army.
James had changed his name by deed poll in 1997 because he wanted to
sound British, but he joined the TA under his birth name, Esmail
Mohammed Beigi Gamasai. He was called up for duty in Afghanistan because
he was fluent in Dari and Farsi, a rare talent in which the Army was
The MoD said James, who was convicted under the Official Secrets Act of
communicating with an enemy, had been discharged from the TA.
The prosecution will seek advice from Baroness Scotland, QC, the
Attorney-General, about a possible retrial.
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