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  1. Wealth
December 3, 2008

Lost in translation

By Spear's

In the scramble to find interpreters, have unsuitable people have gained sensitive positions?

A jury at the Old Bailey has convicted Danny James of breaches of the Official Secrets Act. Iranian-born and an army reservist, Corporal James was called up and posted to Afghanistan to use his language skills but was disappointed by his failure to gain a promotion.

This, apparently, was his motive for contacting the Iranian military attaché in Kabul and sending him text messages.

During the trial there was plenty of evidence that James was an eccentric, and something of a fantasist, sometimes presenting himself as the general for whom he was supposed to translate.

However, as well as acting as an interpreter, he taught salsa dancing and attracted attention by some bizarre behaviour. However, he has not been convicted of being strange, but of passing classified information to an unauthorized person.

The James case raises, once again, the issue of compromising security screening to acquire much-needed languages, and the suspicion is that numerous unsuitable people have gained sensitive positions without proper background checks in the scramble to find interpreters and intelligence analysts.

According to his neighbours in Brighton, James owned several local houses, which he rented out, but there was no obvious explanation for his wealth, prompting speculation about how thorough his clearance vetting had been.

MI5 has already acknowledged that it has spotted an unspecified attempt at hostile penetration by potential terrorists, and the FBI has stated publicly that it has been notified of more than fifty similar incidents.

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At the very least, the James case should prompt a review of existing procedures to ensure security has not been sacrificed in the rush to find linguists.

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