Analysis: THE LIST of 620 Russian spies, featuring one alleged agent at the centre of one of the biggest personal scandals in Wall Street history.
At 09.00 hours Kiev-time on March 28 this year the counter intelligence wing of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence published on its official website a list of what it said were 620 employees of the FSB, Russia’s federal security service.
For employees read “spies” and in what appeared to be a devastating and intended blow to its enemy, the Ukrainians revealed the full names of the agents, their passport numbers, dates of birth, mobile numbers, and even the car registrations of some.
No.139 on the Ukraine spy list
The list was in alphabetical order (by surname), so you have to go some way down before you reached No.139 who, as with her colleagues, was listed as connected to the FSB headquarters in the feared Lubyanka Building in Moscow, once home to the KGB, and the source of the huge spy leak.
More on No. 139 later.
According to the Ukraine several of the named agents belonged to the Foreign Intelligence Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB), a department Putin personally created when he was head of the FSB.
They were also working under “deep cover” in NATO countries – in some instances for decades – very much in the same way ten SVR (another branch of the Russian secret service) agents had been prior to their mass arrest by the FBI in the U.S. back in 2010.
On that occasion the feds swooped after a decade-long investigation into the so-called Russian “illegals” programme – also dubbed “Operation Ghost Stories.” Each Russian agent’s role was to collect information on the vulnerabilities of colleagues, friends, and employers and send it back to their handlers to be exploited later on via blackmail or kompromat, as the Russians call it. Ideally they were to befriend foreign nationals in an academic environment who might one day hold positions of power and influence.
Credit: FBI Vault
Columbia University, perhaps the most favoured Ivy League institution in the U.S. by the CIA when it came to recruiting personnel, held obvious appeal to the SVR. Indeed, for all the media attention around the glamorous Russian spy Anna Chapman, it was her less photogenic colleague Cynthia “Cindy” Murphy who most concerned the feds. Murphy enrolled on an “Executive MBA” at Columbia in 2008, targeting her fellow students and her professors over the course of the 20 month programme, most especially those who had been recruited by the CIA, or were in the processing of applying to the American secret service.
According to Todd Shelton, an FBI special agent: “Her attendance at Columbia University was a huge opportunity for gaining access to up and coming professionals in the U.S.” His colleague Maria Ricci also revealed how Cindy and her husband Richard Murphy, also spying for Russia, were recording holding endless discussions about how to gain access to people in political and policy making circles.
She added: “Cindy Murphy was reporting on people who were interested in potentially obtaining jobs with the CIA. That was of significance to us.”
The aforementioned Anna Chapman – birth name Anna Vasilyevna Kushchenko – took an entirely different route, collecting compromising material on senior business figures while working for Barclays bank in London, a private jet firm (NetJets), and later as an international real estate agent employing 50 people in New York. She pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and was sent back to Russia in 2010 as part of a U.S.-Russia prisoner swap.
The FBI later described Chapman as one of a new breed of intelligence officers – spies operating in plain sight with credentials which held up well to scrutiny. They were younger, and in the case of Chapman a head-turner who, according to the FBI’s counter intelligence Chief Frank Figliuzzi, was “getting closer and closer” to seducing a sitting U.S. cabinet member at the time of her arrest.
The official website revealing the list of 620 Russian spies
Returning now to that list of 620 spies as released by the Ukraine.
The Ukrainian intelligence service is on friendly terms with America, as demonstrated by members of the House of Representatives meeting this week with Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of Defence Intelligence for the Ukraine, and his counterpart Oleksandr Lytvynenko, Head of the Intelligence Service for the Ukraine.
It has studied the work of the FBI in exposing and apprehending Russian spies at close quarters, and learned from it. It does not, however, have the resources to mount decade-long surveillance operations – thus presumably the decision to release the list and hopefully spike the Russian operations that way.
And as Putin’s forces have discovered since invading the Ukraine back in February, one month before the so-called spy list was published, under estimating the capabilities of its smaller neighbour comes at a considerable cost.
Oleksandr Merezhko, chair of the Ukraine Foreign Affairs Committee, told National Security News (NSN) that while he was not personally familiar with any of the names on the list, he had no reason to doubt its authenticity.
“The list has been produced by our intelligence service after presumably some thorough research,” he said. “We are known for our thoroughness so I would be inclined to suggest that anyone reading it takes it very seriously.”
Which brings us to a more recent communique from his country’s intelligence directorate, on this occasion a briefing it gave to a number of leading Ukrainian newspapers earlier this month, in which it pointed to a clutch of spy-related cases which had been uncovered since it released March list. This it said was a vindication for its belief that there were hundreds of operatives on both sides of the Atlantic who needed to be rounded up.
They were referring to the investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) into Inna Yashchyshyn, a reputed Russian spy of Ukrainian extraction who met former President Trump on his private Florida estate by posing as a banking heiress; Bellingcat’s revelations concerning Olga Kolobova, a GRU asset who used the legend of being a jeweller and socialite in Naples to target officials at the NATO base there with honey traps; and the expose by the Die Zeit newspaper into two as yet un-named spies working as civil servants in the German economic ministry, altering internal reports to cast Russia in a favourable light.
Ukrainian intelligence named Guzel Ganieva, the Russian-born former model engaged in a legal spat with Wall Street financier Leon Black, as a Russian spy
Guzel Ganieva (WhatsApp)
Then came the decision to single out No.139 on their spy list in the intelligence briefing: Why, they asked, had no-one in America or Europe followed up their intel on Maria Gennadievna Guchapsheva, born on 10.12.1981, in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, also known as Guzel King, Guzel Ganieva, Guzel Gupscheva, or Guzel Oganezov. According to the Ukrainian officials she regularly travelled between Moscow, London and New York.
They said she had worked briefly as a journalist, then as a model; and also enrolled as a student at an Ivy League university to target influential U.S. and UK business leaders. She had a relationship with Harold Van Arnem IV, a wealthy financier, which enabled her to become a regular on the New York social scene. Van Arnem, the founder of Money.net, was aged just 44 when he was found dead in his Greenwich Village apartment in October 2018. The cause of death was later given as natural causes.
Public searches by NSN also show that a Harold Arnem and a Guzel Ganieva were named as co-debtors in a 2005 lawsuit brought by Tribeca Equity Partners over non-payment of $4,686.23 in rent of an apartment at 110 Fulton Street in New York (New York County, Civil Court, Case No. LT-079696-05, July 8, 2005).
There is also a further twist. According to the Ukrainians this agent has been a close associate of Elena Branson, also known as Elena Chernykh, who had fled the U.S. just as she was about to get arrested back in 2020. Their intelligence was that the spy worked closely with Branson to target influential businessmen with political clout.
Elena Branson: Russian Centre, New York
This was consistent with the 2021 indictment from the U.S. Justice department, in which 61-year-old Branson was described as a spy advancing Russian interests in America who reported directly to Putin. Her brief was to target politicians and business leaders, including acting on instructions from Moscow to organise a 2016 meeting with then Presidential candidate Donald Trump “or his daughter.”
Branson purportedly attended a number of International Women’s Day Events to brush shoulders with her targets and at one such event in 2008 she introduced the billionaire financier Leon Black to a Russian model who he had spotted in the crowd. In fact, the intelligence briefing stated, the agent was just one of a number of attractive Russian operatives Branson placed at the event in the hope of ensnaring Black and other Wall Street figures attending.
That woman’s name – and one the media have come to know well from a series of explosive court filings going back and forth from her lawyers and those engaged by Black – was Guzel Ganieva. Her son, Alexander King, also bears the same surname as the Guzel King alluded to the so-called spy list.
And just like the women named in the Ukraine intelligence files, she is a regular traveller between NY, London, and Moscow. Where the records do not matchup is over the date of birth – Ganieva the former model was born a year later, on May 13, 1982. That said it is common for spies to alter their dates of birth, usually providing fake documentation for obtaining legitimate state driving licences as part of their legend (as Inna Yashchyshyn is alleged to have done in several states).
What is known from a June 2021 lawsuit against Black alleging defamation and sexual violence stated – is that Ganieva moved from Russia to the United States as a single mother in her early twenties. It also reveals that through Black she was able to land interviews at Goldman Sachs in New York, London and Moscow – potentially following a similar path to how Anna Chapman operated in the banking and business world.
Guzel Ganieva enjoying the limelight
Ganieva also rubbed shoulders with the upper echelons of the American business community – the kind of personal interactions the FSB can only dream of – until it all went sour that is.
In a January 2022 counter claim to Ganieva’s suit, Black’s lawyers told how their client had secretly recording her claiming that “various prominent people – from international philanthropist Len Blavatnik, to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to ailing publisher Mort Zuckerman – were following or harassing her at Mr Black’s direction.”
And although her testimony only referred to her studying Math at an un-named University, Black’s 52-page counterclaim revealed that it had been Columbia, and that he had paid for her tuition. Columbia was, as detailed earlier, the alma mater of Russian spy Cindy Murphy.
An old LinkedIn profile indicates that Ganieva had two spells at Columbia University, the first when she completed an undergraduate degree there in 2014, and the second when she earned a Master of Science in Management from 2017-2018 – as double verified on a temporary visa application she made as a student.
Student visa for Guzel Ganieva
At some point in between she also enrolled to Fordham University and more recently 2019-2020 at Cordozo Law School in New York, where tuition fees start at $67,792 per year.
Around this time a Guzel Ganieva applied to study at the Moscow Institute of Physics of Technology (MIPT), but withdrew from the process shortly afterwards. The U.S. imposed sanctions on the institute in November 2021, due to its helping to develop military products for military customers. MIPT is also an active recruitment pool for the Russian security services.
Intriguingly Black’s law suit against Ganieva fell at the first hurdle when he claimed there was someone behind the scenes funding her case against him, eventually speculating on a series of names which a judge dismissed as “groundless.”
The Ukrainians would have us believe that it is the Russian state. Regardless it is clear that Ganieva – rather like Olga Kolobova in Naples – lives a lifestyle considerably beyond her means, in this case being a former model whose last paid assignment was for the Jason J. Kim Oral Design Laboratory in New York approximately a decade ago.
Black it seems has been her only acknowledged source of funds in the period since, writing off more than $1 million in loans and at one stage offering her monthly payments of $100,000 for 15 years.
As financier, however, made clear in his counterclaim, he stopped funding her lifestyle in 2015, when he says she attempted to extort $100 million dollars from him.
Ganieva meantime continues to fly first class between London, Moscow, and New York, in addition to occasional stop-overs at her son’s finishing school in Switzerland. The tycoon reportedly offered to pay £2 million to make her eligible for a UK ”Golden Visa” to start a new life but this fell through.
This did not stop Ganieva from visiting the UK in 2018, staying in a luxury Knightsbridge apartment which is owned by Blue Coral Asset Corp, an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands. Rentals of comparable two-floor maisonettes in the same street can be as high as £15,000 a week.
Her home in New York is an apartment in the prestigious Time Warner building in Columbus Circle, a luxurious 80-storey residence which has its own 1,200-seat theatre. She does not own the property and rents in the building average $34,950 per month.
NSN approached Guzel Ganieva for her comments via WhatsApp. While our messages appeared to be seen, there was no response from her. We also approached Mr Black for a comment via his publicist, but were told he had nothing to say on the matter.
The pair are still at loggerheads in the courts, and in a scandal that appeared to have everything we now have a claim of an espionage from a country with no axe to grind against Ganieva personally, nor any known affiliation with Black.
Although Richard Moore the Chief of MI6 recently said at the Aspen Security Forum that 400 Russian spies operating under diplomatic cover have been expelled across Europe, it seems that it is the Russia spies operating under non-diplomatic cover or as illegals that pose the real danger for the future.