Europe

US teacher 'knew spy was Russian'

Nina Khrushcheva
Image caption Nina Khrushcheva was Richard Murphy's academic adviser for three years

When Nina Khrushcheva heard the news of a Russian spy network being unearthed in the United States, she immediately realised she knew one of the men accused of being a foreign agent.

"When the story broke," she told BBC World Service, "there was a name, Richard Murphy, floated and I immediately thought of that person."

Richard Murphy was one of 10 people arrested in the US and was charged with spying for Russia.

According to Ms Khrushcheva - the great-granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev - Richard Murphy was a student at The New School in New York, where she taught media and culture. She was his academic adviser.

"For three years, every semester he would come talk to me about his courses," she said.

What puzzled her about his identity at the time, she said, was the fact that despite having a very Irish name, he came across as a Russian.

"You know when you meet your countryman even if this countryman speaks a different language and pretends not to be your countryman," she said.

"I came out of KGB, gulag culture," she said, adding that she had a tendency of not taking things at face value.

But she found it surprisingly easy to spot Russian characteristics in Richard Murphy: "He was a little dour I must say. He was not always happy, which is a bit Russian because you know misery is what we do best."

She said she was intrigued by the fact that despite being a "Russian", Richard Murphy never tried to have a conversation with her in their native language. And she felt relieved that, unlike many other Russians, he didn't express any interest in her family history.

"To a certain extent I appreciated he was not prying into my Russianness, and I felt that it wasn't my business to pry into his."

She concluded that Mr Murphy was perhaps a "self-hating Russian" who didn't want to talk about his own past or her family background.

Private matter

Image caption Richard and Cynthia Murphy lived in New Jersey

The New School has confirmed to the BBC that a student named Richard Murphy did graduate in May 2005 with an MA in International Affairs.

Following his arrest, news reports portrayed him as a stay-at-home dad looking after two children while his wife Cynthia concentrated on a high-flying career in the city.

Prosecutors accused both the husband and wife of using false identities, including the use of fake birth certificates. The couple, along with the others, were later swapped for four people held in custody in Russia, accused of spying for the US.

According to Ms Khrushcheva the person in charge of creating Mr Murphy's profile simply failed to do the job.

"His cover was so badly designed," she said, adding that she would have been able to find out his intentions very quickly had she decided to ask him some straight questions.

Although she was baffled by Mr Murphy's behaviour, she did not confront him about his identity and did not discuss the mater with the authorities.

"I don't regret that, because it wasn't my job, it wasn't my business," she said. "There's a lot of privacy laws in America and you know we have to respect that."

She said it also had something to do with the American way of living where the society encouraged migrants to blend in rather than stand out in a crowd.

She certainly felt the pressure herself since arriving in the US in 1991 for higher studies: "For example, I never speak Russian in the street on the phone.

"If I need to call somebody and I have to speak Russian, I would do it from the privacy of my own home," she said, adding that migrants like her, who carry a burdensome last name, often worked hard to achieve a certain level of anonymity.

"I don't want people in the street to judge me and know that I am a Russian. You know it's none of anybody's business."

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