Accused Iranian “Spy” & British TA soldier acted “strangely” around Tony Blair

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UPDATE, 5th November, 2008: GUILTY of spying for Iran – Photographer who walked alongside Blair

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BREAKING NEWS (17th Oct): DAVID RICHARDS TO TAKE OVER AS ARMY CHIEF FROM DANNATT

Britain militarily committed to Afghanistan “for at least a decade”. Troop surge?

16th October, 2008

Iranian Spy suspect took photos of Tony Blair in Afghanistan, court hears

Accused of spying for Iran, he acted "strangely" around Tony Blair: TA reservist Daniel James in Kabul in 2006. Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters

A soldier accused of spying for Iran while serving in Afghanistan was acting strangely by taking photos of Tony Blair while he was on a visit to the country, a court heard today.

Corporal Daniel James, 45, worked as an interpreter for General David Richards, the head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and is alleged to have been passing coded messages to the Iranian military attache in Kabul after being called up as a Territorial Army reservist in 2006.

The Old Bailey heard that James, an Iranian-born salsa dance instructor from Brighton, accompanied the officers who met the then prime minister’s helicopter when it landed at a Kabul base, and walked alongside the group taking photographs.

Blair visiting British troops in Afghanistan, near the end of his premiership

Speaking via a video link from Afghanistan, sergeant Gareth Podesta, a member of Richards’ close protection team, told the court it was “strange” that James was going to meet Blair’s visiting party.

“He was out on the football pitch which is where the helicopters land, taking photos,” Podesta said. “There was nobody else apart from the general and his close staff, and the protection team such as myself. It seemed strange why he was there.”

“He was in proximity, about 20 metres, walking along taking photos.”

** FILE ** British Lieutenant General David J. Richards, right, head of NATO's international security forces in Afghanistan, laughs as he listens to his aide Daniel James, during a meeting of Afghan governors and chiefs of police regarding  security problems in the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this Sunday, Aug. 20, 2006 file photo.  District Judge Timothy Workman  on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006 ordered Daniel James, 44, a former army interpreter to stand trial for allegedly disclosing British national security secrets to an enemy state.  James, arrested Dec. 18 and charged under the Official Secrets Act, allegedly "communicated to another person information calculated to be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy" on Nov. 2. He has yet to enter a plea. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

British Lieutenant General David J. Richards, right, head of NATO's international security forces in Afghanistan, laughs as he listens to his aide Daniel James, during a meeting of Afghan governors and chiefs of police regarding security problems in the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this Sunday, Aug. 20, 2006 file photo. District Judge Timothy Workman on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006 ordered Daniel James, 44, a former army interpreter to stand trial for allegedly disclosing British national security secrets to an enemy state. James, arrested Dec. 18 and charged under the Official Secrets Act, allegedly "communicated to another person information calculated to be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy" on Nov. 2. He has yet to enter a plea. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

Podesta then told the court that James had said he did not like Tony Blair. “He talked about the fact he didn’t like Tony Blair. He didn’t like the taxes in the UK and thought it needed a new government,” Podesta said.

The court also heard that James had been reprimanded for his lack of punctuality and a tendency to disappear. Members of Richards’ staff would be concerned that the general would be kept waiting because James had gone to talk to people and couldn’t be found.

On one occasion he was told off by a sergeant for wandering off while Richards’ convoy was parked at the Afghan president’s palace, to which James told the sergeant to “fuck off you’re a racist,” Podesta said. The court heard the claim had been taken “very seriously” and investigated by a sergeant major.

Podesta told the court that James was unhappy at being told off and appeared to think “he could do what he wanted.”

James denies communicating and collecting information useful to an enemy, under the Official Secrets Act, and of wilful misconduct in public office.

This is an ongoing trial, and so sub judice, and being a law abiding person perhaps I should refrain from commenting. But given that thousands believe that western leaders are guilty of war crimes when they have not even been tried and are never likely to be, this doesn’t prevent the know-all critics proclaiming it as fact daily on the internet.

So, I’ll let loose here with a couple of thoughts:

  1. What if the camera had been linked to an IED – improvised explosive device –  perhaps attached to suicide equipment strapped to this man’s body? At 20 metres he could have taken out an international leader in the Afghanistan conflict (perfectly legal, btw – the war, not the taking out!) AND NATO’S chief military leader in Afghanistan.
  2. WHY was this man allowed to be so close to Tony Blair if others wondered why? He was an interpreter and not an official photographer, and would presumably not be needed as Mr Blair spoke to General Richards. Did he have permission to take pictures?
  3. If not, WHY wasn’t this raised with his superiors and in particular General David Richards? Particularly since it is said that this man had actually said he “didn’t like Tony Blair” AND had expressed support for Iran over several issues.
  4. WHY was the accused’s complaint about racism taken seriously but his ability to put himself in a place which could threaten Mr Blair’s life was not?  This danger seems clear from the statement by Sergeant Gareth Podesta. Twenty metres is well within the danger zone. In the care of one of the world’s supreme armed forces, Mr Blair should have been better protected than this.
  5. WHY, if Daniel James was unreliable, with “a tendency to disappear”, was he still retained as an interpreter?
  6. WHAT is his real, Iranian name? Or did he change it when he became a British citizen? If so, WHY? Not too many Daniel Jameses in Iran, I’d have thought!
  7. Was he vetted properly prior to being allowed to join the Territorial Army, AND/OR prior to being taken on as an interpreter for the Head of NATO’S International Security Forces in Afghanistan? If not, this seems almost criminally lax. Surely ALL of those with expected close proximity to top military or political figures need careful scrutiny?

Other reports on this:

‘An Afghan translator who worked alongside James said the corporal had expressed sympathy with Iran when there were TV reports about its dispute with the US over uranium production, the court heard in a statement.

Later an Afghan translator said James had expressed sympathy with Iran in its dispute with the United States over its nuclear ambitions.

“He appeared to be supporting Iran,” said the man, referred to only as N to protect his identity.’ More here


And the London Metro report: ‘The sergeant said James was unhappy about being told off and appeared to think “he could do what he wanted”.’


Still, as long as he didn’t convert to Christianity when he “converted” to British citizenship, he’ll be all right when we send him back with a slap on the wrists to Iran (Fat chance of that! If convicted, when released, in a couple of years, we’ll have to look after him and his family.) Of course. We in our wisdom invariably house, clothe, feed and keep those who are after our blood!

That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it, Ms Chakrabarti? Protecting their civil rights! To hell with ours!

Only converts to Christianity are hanged in Iran (oh, and probably to Judaism too).

Former Irish taoiseach (prime minister) Garret FitzGerald says: “Only when Blair came to power was the British army brought to heel”.

Yes, and Northern Ireland brought to peace.

Never forget.


MORE REPORTS ON THIS TRIAL

Accused asked boss if he wanted salsa lessons.

The court was told Mr James would sometimes refer to himself as “General James” and Gen Richards described how the soldier would “act up” while translating speeches into the Dari language spoken by the majority of Afghan officers.

And on one occasion after being told by Gen Richards “we’ll make a sergeant of you yet”, Mr James went to see the brigadier and demanded promotion, jurors were told.

Gen Richards, now commander-in-chief of land forces, agreed with the suggestion of Colin Nicholls QC, defending, that James’s behaviour could be seen as “bordering on the bizarre”.

We were completely dependent on him. He was in quite an influential position and maybe he played up to it a bit
Gen Sir David Richards

“I remember him asking me if I wanted to go to a salsa class,” the general said, adding: “I declined.”

Gen Richards went on to tell the court how Mr James would attend his meetings with senior Afghan officials where big decisions were made.

“We would inevitably get onto sensitive points of discussion. They were more strategic than operational in fact,” he said.

“I would rarely talk about tactical detail, ie where a particular unit would be on a particular day, but certainly you would be party to a lot of atmospherics and the big decisions rather than the specifics.”

Mr James also went with the general to a meeting at the Iranian embassy in August 2006 but was not required to interpret because the ambassador spoke good English, the court heard.

It was here, prosecutors argue, he may have met his Iranian contact.

‘Influential position’

But Gen Richards said he had no reason to doubt the corporal’s loyalty and was “surprised” he had been found in December 2006 carrying a USB memory stick containing details of troops, munitions and intelligence.

The general said although some members of his staff regarded Mr James as a “nightmare”, he thought of him as “an enthusiastic person doing his best”.

His interpreting skills were of interest to me rather than his slightly unusual demeanour
Col John Donnelly

“We were completely dependent on him. He was in quite an influential position and maybe he played up to it a bit,” he said.

Gen Richards added there had been “sufficient evidence” of the influence of Iran in the attacks on coalition forces for troops to be “wary in our dealings with the Iranians”.

Earlier, Mr James’s commanding officer also described the interpreter’s behaviour as “strange and eccentric”.

The soldier worked for Col John Donnelly on an Afghan officer training programme when he was deployed in 2006.

Col Donnelly said his demeanour and unusual dress were not what he would have expected of a corporal.

“His interpreting skills were of interest to me rather than his slightly unusual demeanour,” he told the court.

The trial continues.




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4 Responses to “Accused Iranian “Spy” & British TA soldier acted “strangely” around Tony Blair”

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