Khrushchev's Relative Puzzled By Russian Spy

Note: far right defendant cut off in crop - In this courtroom sketch, Anna Chapman, left, Vicky Pelaez, second from left, the defendant known as "Richard Murphy", center, the defendant known as "Cynthia Murphy", second from right, and the defendant known as "Juan Lazaro" are seen in Manhattan federal court in New York, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Murphys, Lazaro, and Pelaez are among the 10 people the FBI arrested Monday for allegedly serving for years as secret agents of Russia's intelligence organ, the SVR, with the goal of penetrating U.S. government policymaking circles. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)
AP Photo
During his decade-long effort to burrow into U.S. society, secret Russian agent Richard Murphy raised the suspicions of at least one acquaintance in America - the great-granddaughter of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Nina L. Khrushcheva, who teaches media and culture at The New School in New York City, said Tuesday that she couldn't quite figure out the part-time graduate student with the heavy Russian accent who called himself Murphy and claimed to be a Philadelphia native.

"I was always puzzled by the inconsistency between a completely American name and a completely Russian behavior," Khrushcheva said in a telephone interview. "I never bothered to ask him though, because I was afraid to become privy to some random Russian drama."

Khrushcheva said she served as Murphy's faculty adviser at The New School for three years starting in 2002.

FBI officials said the arrests of Murphy and nine others came after officials learned that another agent, Donald Heathfield of Cambridge, Mass., would soon be traveling abroad with a college-age son.

Murphy, whose real name was Vladimir Guryev, "had a thick Russian accent and an incredibly unhappy Russian personality," Khrushcheva said. "I knew he wasn't American. I knew it was very odd."

But she said she wasn't certain until she checked the records Monday that showed her former advisee, now 43, was the same Richard Murphy of Montclair, N.J. who was deported Friday in a Cold War-style spy swap in Vienna.

Murphy and nine others pleaded guilty in a Manhattan courtroom to conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign country.

Despite his notable accent, Khrushcheva said the student she knew as Murphy never tried to speak Russian with her. She was also puzzled, she said, that unlike most Russian speakers he showed no curiosity about her ancestry.

"It was one of those absolutely beautiful post-Cold War coincidences," she said.