(AFP) - A close aide to the British commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan has been accused of passing secrets about activities there to Iran, press reports said.
Thursday's reports come as British-led forces struggle against fiercer than expected Taliban insurgents in the south of the country, invaded by US-led forces following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, reports Trend.
Corporal Daniel James, an interpreter to Lieutenant General David Richards, the head of NATO's more than 30,000-strong force in Afghanistan, has been charged under the Official Secrets Act with "prejudicing the safety of the state."
Specifically he is accused of passing information "calculated to be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy" by communicating with a "foreign power", believed to be Iran, said The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers.
James, 44, appeared at London's City of Westminster magistrates' court Wednesday but details of the case were not revealed as the judge ordered reporters out of court because of a "possible prejudice to national security".
The Telegraph reported that James, who lived in the southern English resort town of Brighton, was of Iranian descent and spoke fluent Pashtun, the main language in Afghanistan.
The specific charge against him alleges that on November 2, for a purpose prejudicial to the safety of the state, he "communicated to another person information calculated to be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy".
James, who appeared in court dressed smartly in a quilted jacket and spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth, was remanded in custody until December 27. There was no application for bail.
According to The Guardian, Judge Timothy Workman said that there was a substantial risk of further "communications" between James and "a foreign power", and he might be "extracted" from British jurisdiction if granted bail.
The charges come amid heightening tension between the West and Iran over the Islamic republic's nuclear plans.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair returned home from a six-day trip to the Middle East on Wednesday during which he highlighted the need for international unity in the face of hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Blair has also stressed the importance of bolstering troubled forces in Afghanistan, where Britain commands the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, facing growing violence in the south of the country.
Richards would be very familiar with planning both for reconstruction work around the country and for frontline action against Taliban militia in the south.
It is unclear how much access his interpreter would have to such information. "The driver or intepreter would have no official access to documents," one officer told the Telegraph.
But another said: "The driver or interpreter would pick up a hell of a lot of it.... He probably knows more than half the senior staff officers in many ways."
According to The Times, James was arrested in Britain on Tuesday and charged within hours because of the seriousness of the alleged offence -- so fast that there was not time to get approval of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.
Any prosecution under the Official Secrets Act requires the go-ahead of the attorney general, who would lead the case if the case goes to court, reports said.
The Ministry of Defence, the Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard all refused to confirm the details of his identity and the charges against him published in newspapers.
If it does come to trial, the case would be the first brought under the 1911 Official Secrets Act for a generation, according to the Telegraph.
The last involved an MI5 domestic security service officer, Michael Bettany, who was sentenced to 23 years in jail in 1984 for passing secrets to the Soviet Union.