28 October 2008

Daniel James - the sacrificial lamb

After several false starts, the Daniel James trial finally started on Monday 13 October, at 10:30 in Court 9 of the Old Bailey.

When I met Daniel James at Wandsworth prison, in June 2007, I explained to him the way that an Official Secrets Act case would be dealt with, and how he would be made to appear a suspicious type of person, so that the jury would have no sympathy with him. These are standard techniques used in the British Courts, and there is nothing particularly special about the way this works, but for Daniel it was important for him to be aware of what he was facing.

Well, the worst nightmares become real, and the past couple of weeks have revealed how true my predications have become. I wonder how much of what has happened is the result of the ambitions of MI5, who will be pulling the strings behind closed doors.

Intimidation from Day One
Right at the beginning of the case, when DJ was being interviewed by the Police, the unfairness was already apparent, it was not so much a presumption of innocence but more a presumption of guilt:

Interviewing Police Officer: “Now, these are extremely serious charges Danny, which carry 20, 30 years sentences. Are you willing to accept that?”

DJ’s Solicitor: “Accept what exactly? I’m a little bit disturbed by that line of questioning. You seem to be looking forward into the future where you are imagining what might be going through a Jury’s mind and putting that to him.”

Interviewing Police Officer: “Danny”

DJ’s Solicitor: “And you are talking about potential sentences. Let me make this point please. You are talking about potential sentences in an interview. Now why are you doing that?”

The character assassination of DJ
We have heard that DJ was a “Walter Mitty” character and a fantasist, an oddball, somebody who behaved in bizarre ways, dressed unconventionally, and who was often late for meetings or had gone missing when needed. These appear to be serious accusations that DJ was an unreliable and difficult character to work with, and it is hard to imagine that the Army would have tolerated such behaviour for more than a few days. Why was DJ not reprimanded or sent home to the UK as unsuitable for the conditions in Afghanistan?

It is surprising therefore, that despite these alleged character defects DJ was arrested while being sent BACK to Afghanistan for a further tour of duty. Why was a person of whom these serious criticisms have been made being sent back for another spell as an interpreter, if he was as bad as is claimed? Well, unfortunately this puts a big question mark over the accuracy of the evidence being brought against DJ, and clearly he would not have had these remarks made about him if he had not been arrested.

Then we heard all the nonsense about Daniel’s interest in salsa dancing. I know he is a very keen salsa dancer and teacher, and what on earth is wrong with that? There must be hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who have tried salsa dancing. If DJ invited General Richards to attend a salsa class, then I am sure this was done in the good-natured way that DJ acts, and he was only trying to be friendly and genuinely thinking that General Richards would enjoy the experience. But no - this is another issue to be used to put down DJ, and to make him appear stupid or misguided.

Then we had the ridiculous story that DJ had taken photographs of Tony Blair when he visited Kabul. What use photos of Tony Blair could be is difficult to understand, and obviously it is being implied that DJ was up to something sinister in taking these photos. But on the other hand, why shouldn’t he have taken some photos. I guess nobody told him not to use a camera, and I am sure other soldiers have taken photos like this when Mr Blair has visited the places where the British Army has been based. Perhaps DJ had never met Mr Blair before, and he thought this was an occasion to remember. However, as far as I am concerned, taking a photograph of Mr Blair does not indicate evidence of espionage behaviour.

What more contempt can the Prosecution pour on DJ to make him look even more sinister and evil? Next we had him being ridiculed for having taken part in some Cuban black magic ritual to protect General Richards from the Taliban. I have no idea what DJ believes, but involvement in black magic - or rather the native Cuban Yoruba religion - is hardly evidence to support espionage, and this story could only have been brought to court to discredit DJ in the eyes of the jury.

Oh yes, and he has been accused of making himself out to be a General, calling himself “General James”. Well, this is obviously a bit of a joke, and no doubt his colleagues would have had a laugh about it, but again it is no evidence to prove that DJ was involved in espionage. Naturally, when he was interpreting for General Richards the audience watched and listened to DJ, who they could understand. Whether this attention caused DJ to act like a “General” is hardly enough reason to tell the jury that he pretending to have a high rank - this is simply damaging nonsense to win cheap points for the Prosecution.

All these attempts to make DJ look like some sort of nut is hardly any credit to the British Justice system. So, what if in Kabul DJ did organise salsa lessons, Spanish classes, volleyball, cricket, football, women's football, and Latin parties? These are examples of DJ’s resourcefulness and energy to try to do something useful to help people. Such activities should be applauded and rewarded, not condemned. DJ deserves an honour like an OBE for his enterprise, rather than being criticised.

The attempts to justify a “motive” for DJ’s alleged spying
Motive is the thing the Prosecution have a problem proving in this trial. Just what is the motive?

After working on a training programme for Afghan officers, in May 2006, DJ went to work as an interpreter to General David Richards in Kabul, who had just taken over as overall commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which comprised 35,000 troops from 37 nations.

The claim is that DJ was embittered at not being promoted, and so chose to become an agent for Iran. But that is hardly the reaction of a man who was not that ambitious, rising only to the level of a Corporal after 19 years in the Territorial Army. A man who has been in the Army nearly 20 years, and only attained the rank of Corporal, hardly seems to be so ambitious that he would betray the UK through spite or bitterness. In any case, those who know DJ will agree that this is not his character at all. Likewise, any talk of DJ feeling that he had been discriminated against racially is also very out of character, and not a response his friends would recognise.

DJ said he was promised promotion to Sergeant by General Richards, but did not get it. General Richards indicates that DJ asked him for promotion, but then this does make sense because General Richards said James was doing a job that was normally the task of a Sergeant.

An anomaly in DJ's case is his transfer from working under Colonel Donnelly to General Richards. DJ was not so happy in his new role, and he made several requests to be returned to Colonel Donnelly. As the charges seem to refer to his time serving under General Richards, it makes no sense that he would be asking to move away from that area, which would have reduced Daniel's access to the material now being used to prosecute him.

There can be no motive of religion, because although raised a Muslim, DJ has shown no interest in practising it. It is also accepted that DJ is not interested in politics or ideology, and so the claim that he wanted to help the country of his birth has to be proved more satisfactorily than merely picking this idea out of the air.

Money could not be a motive because DJ had enough money and property not to worry about needing more. After he was arrested it was falsely claimed that DJ owned 3 houses in Iran, when in fact he owned only one flat, which he had inherited when his father died about 5 years ago. False allegations such as this are common ways to confuse and spread disinformation about an accused person, and this is what was happening here.

The issue of money was raised again when it was claimed that DJ had $35,000 dollars stashed away in a bank account in a foreign country. This was yet another false allegation, which could be easily disproved from DJ’s own bank statements. DJ had a Dollar account with the HSBC bank in Brighton, because he was considering travelling to a dollar region like Cuba or Puerto Rico. The source of the money was not from Iran, which clearly the Prosecution were hoping to prove, but came mainly from the sale of the lease on the night club he ran plus £60,000 he received from the PAX insurance company following 2 strokes he suffered in July 2005.

Perhaps one of the main issues, that works against the Prosecution’s idea of motive, is that DJ believed he would be finishing his tour of Afghanistan on 15th October 2006, and it was only later that he learned he had been asked to stay on until 4th February 2007. By November DJ had already decided that he was going to leave the army for good and become a civilian.

Empathy with Afghans
Although it was claimed that DJ had a lot of empathy towards Afghans, was this a bad thing? After all, it is partly for the benefit of the Afghans that the British Army is in Afghanistan. And who could find it wrong the way that DJ was operating in his role in Afghanistan [e.g. see the witness statements taken for the trial, but not used because they support DJ as a good guy]

DJ’s health
The fact that DJ had 2 strokes in July 2005 should have led to him being considered for retirement from the TA as medically unfit, and remember he suffered this medical condition only a few months before his trip to Afghanistan in 2006. Nevertheless, DJ appears to have been pressurised to undertake service in a war zone because of his rare linguistic abilities. Did the Army abandon its duty of care for the health of DJ, or even send a sick man into the stressful situation of a war zone. Perhaps some of DJ’s alleged ‘bizarre’ behaviour could be related to his medical background? He should have been rewarded for devotion to duty to carry on despite these strokes, rather than being accused of dereliction of his duty.

Certainly the stress of being held in custody for nearly 2 years awaiting trial cannot have improved DJ’s mental state. There are many other points that can be made about this case, but I am completely and utterly disgusted at the way DJ has been treated by the British Army and the UK authorities. It is quite obvious that there is more to this case than the superficial allegations being made against a Corporal.

The “sensitive” material DJ is supposed to have had access to
It has to be remembered that we are dealing with a Corporal here, and not some high level officer. So just what sensitive material might DJ have had access to?

From the earliest stages of the case, when DJ was being interviewed at the Police station, he emphasised that he had not had access to secret or sensitive information. This is not surprising, because his job was to translate the speeches General Richards was making in Afghanistan, and that material was unclassified and publicly announced by the General. It is accepted that DJ translated speeches and other documents for General Richards but did not handle sensitive military information.

General David Richards offered to give evidence on DJ's behalf, and has been quoted as saying that he “had no doubts about Daniel's integrity”. So it seemed DJ was much respected by his own commanding officer, as he was by many others who have also made witness statements. However, when General Richards gave evidence at DJ’s trial it appears things had changed, and General Richards was not so supportive of DJ. Could this have something to do with the fact that General Richards was promoted to the rank of Head of the British Army I wonder - does he now feel he has to distance himself from DJ’s case?

Nevertheless, witness statements made by the senior officers in command in Afghanistan, including General Richards, support the fact that DJ did not have access to secret or sensitive information. It was also made clear that he had not been seen acting suspiciously or trying to gain access to any sensitive documents at headquarters. This is an important point, because if DJ had been spying on behalf of the Iranians it would have been noticed if he had been trying to gain access to material that was useful to them, for example by being in areas where he was not expected to be. It was also confirmed in the witness statements that DJ had not said anything that appeared strange or careless with regard to the handling of secret and sensitive information.

The visit to Amsterdam that was seen as “suspicious”
DJ was meant to return to Afghanistan on Sunday 17th December, but when he phoned on Friday the 15th December to confirm his flight (a normal procedure), he was told that the flight had been delayed. DJ then decided to take a weekend break to Amsterdam before returning to Afghanistan. Therefore, due to the circumstances, it had not been possible for DJ to plan this trip to Amsterdam in advance.

The flight was booked through the Internet by DJ’s friend (tenant) Ms Carmen Sola, who lives in his house, and was paid for using DJ’s credit card. The hotel room DJ stayed in was not reserved, but was selected after he arrived in Amsterdam - he found a room after looking around, and he paid for it with his credit card, although the room was only 75 Euros and he had enough cash on him.

DJ explained his trip to the Police following his arrest, and he told them which hotel he had stayed in. The Police have a copy of the flight ticket and a copy of credit card payment details to the hotel. The Police then claimed that an Iranian intelligence agent had stayed in the same room the previous night.

DJ was arrested on December 18 at 11.15 at RAF Brize Norton, as he waited to fly back to Kabul.

Why was DJ denied trial by Court Martial?
Daniel wanted to be tried by Court Martial, as he is allowed to do as a serving soldier in Afghanistan, but the Attorney General denied Daniel that right and has forced him into a civilian trial, where the evidence can be manipulated more favourably in the interests of the Prosecution.

Then, when applications for bail were made, DJ was treated like a top spy and turned down flat. Apparently DJ was supposed to have “secret” information stored in his head, which could make it dangerous to release him (although he could be visited by anyone and could phone who he liked). In contrast DJ was treated more like a mugger or drug dealer, being graded as an ordinary category B prisoner. Bail was also refused because it was claimed he would abscond, or rather be ‘extracted’ by a ‘foreign power’. The counter-argument is that all DJ’s property and social ties are in the UK, and so he would have no reason to leave the UK unless he was prepared to lose everything he had worked for.

The allegation that DJ is guilty of some offence seems very unlikely from what I have learned. Both DJ and his previous solicitor, Richard Jefferies, told me the same story, that there was no evidence to substantiate the charges being made against DJ. But then, this is a similar situation to Milos Stankovic: the suspicions were there, and people were saying he must have done something to justify his arrest, and yet he was not even put on trial.

DJ has been visited by his old TA commanding officer, who told DJ that he and his colleagues were supporting DJ against the charges he faced. DJ told the officer that he wanted to face a Court Martial, and this request was to be passed onto the authorities concerned. It was only the intervention of Lord Goldsmith that has frustrated DJ’s wish to be tried by Court Martial.

What does seem quite worrying is that Daniel has been told that the police (Special Branch?) have been going around telling his old TA friends not to contact him, because of the terrible things he is alleged to have done. This appears to be an attempt to isolate DJ, and to make it less likely that he will be able to use the good character references that were recorded.

DS Andy Pink, of Special Branch, has visited Daniel in Wandsworth prison. You may remember that Andy Pink was the man who arrested ex-MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson in France in 2006, when he confiscated Tomlinson's computer equipment, mobile phones and much more.

The alleged secret and sensitive material found in DJ’s possession
Allegations by the Prosecution are that the e-mails contain material damaging to UK interests. However, when the Police showed these e-mails to the Chief of Staff (Major General Bickmore) and the Chief of Combined Joint Intelligence Security Assistant Force (ISAF), both of whom knew DJ, their comments were as follows:-

“It is extremely difficult to identify specific areas of damage from what has so far been revealed to me by the police. It is meaningless, without knowing more, I cannot comment further: I know of no damage to NATO, ISAF, or UK operations that would be caused solely on account of the content of these emails.”

Despite the fact that the Police had about 60 statements from military personnel in Afghanistan, setting out the relative unimportance of the information in DJ’s possession, the Prosecution continued to insist that he must remain in prison and bail was refused.

The material DJ had in his possession, and which is being claimed could be helpful to enemies is a CD containing a "Forward Air Control Tactics Manual" and photographs of Predator. He also had a USB memory stick containing "Nato Confidential" Situation Reports. Lives could have been put at risk, it is claimed.

Mr Justice Roderick Evans, the judge in this case, is doing the same as my judge did at my trial in 1993. Justice Evans is claiming that the material is so sensitive and damaging that those parts of the trial must be heard “in camera”. This is nothing more than a crude ploy to avoid the public hearing what a load of nonsense will be claimed about this material. In the safety of a secret court, the jury can be told that material already available in the public domain or not actually damaging at all, is actually extremely sensitive. But they dare not say such lies in an open court.

We have already heard that this “sensitive” material would help hostile forces, insurgents and those supporting insurgents, and Iran will be portrayed as an enemy that we are almost at war with.

The police even questioned that DJ had a training course in the Dari language … I thought that was what he was asked to study? But one issue that was seized on was information about the Predator UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). You don't have to look far on the Internet to find a stack of photographs and technical data about Predator, much more than Daniel seems to have possessed. For example, the Wikipedia entry on Predator offers some official material as well as unofficial:

Air Force Factsheet
How Stuff Works

Or watch how a Predator is actually used for real on YouTube:

Canadian Forces UAV Kandar

This is a case of intellectual dishonesty, with the CPS bending backwards to lie and distort the value of what they claim Daniel had in his possession. The Prosecutors are nothing better than hypocrites in the way they argue a case they surely cannot believe in.

The alleged coded messages
The truth is the Prosecution have to make as much as they can of the e-mail contents, because that is basically all they have to make their case. Army sources were asked for their opinions about the content of the e-mails, but nobody claimed they were a threat to operations in Afghanistan

The allegation is that DJ was in contact with Colonel Mohammad Hossein Heydari, an Iranian military assistant based at Tehran's embassy in Kabul. It is said that DJ sent e-mails and telephoned Colonel Heydari, over a period between September and December 2006, and that this was an attempt by DJ to become an Iranian agent.

I will not go into the details of those e-mails, but it is strange that for well over a year the Crown Prosecution Service has been trying to convince DJ to plead “guilty” to the Misconduct in Public Office offence, and they will then drop the 2 Official Secrets Act charges. This was obviously a cynical attempt to frighten Daniel into accepting “guilt”, so that he might get a shorter sentence if convicted. But it does indicate that the CPS believe they have a weak case.

This case revolves around whether the jury believe DJ’s explanation of what he was thinking and doing. But let us be clear: this is not a case of actual spying, but only a possible intent of DJ to engage in espionage. I do not think the Prosecution have proved their case, and their ducking and diving demonstrates that they are less than convinced about the strength of their own arguments.

This is another of those sham cases of spying, which we have become used to seeing over recent years, where MI5 and MI6 have failed to catch real spies, and they have to resort to presenting cases such as Daniel James as real and important spies. It is actually quite embarrassing to watch this charade.

The political motives behind DJ's prosecution.
It appears that the US authorities were responsible for intercepting the electronic communications between DJ and Heydari, and that it was the US that asked for Daniel to be arrested and prosecuted. The USA has an enormous system of electronic surveillance in place right now, like the Echelon system.

It would have looked bad for the British to have Daniel extradited to face spying charges in the USA, and so the Americans came to an arrangement with the British to mount this prosecution.

Ultimately, what was behind this trial was that the US Top Brass did not want to serve under a British Commander, and finding a spy in the camp was a convenient way to raise concern about the Iranians in Afghanistan, and to get General Richards replaced. Once again British Intelligence plays the role of the poodle to US interests.