Air Force officer who vanished in 1983 found using fake ID

Capt William Howard Hughes

Capt William Howard Hughes

After investigators confronted him with inconsistencies about his identity, the man admitted his true name was William Howard Hughes Jr. and he deserted from the Air Force in 1983.

He has been living under the alias Barry O'Beirne since then.

In retrospect, William Howard Hughes, Jr. was maybe not the kind of guy you wanted to guard your national security.

Capt Hughes worked at the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center in Kirtland, New Mexico.

Hughes was unmarried when he disappeared, but the Seattle native had three sisters.

A high ranking Air Force officer who had gone missing 35 years ago, was apprehended by officials in California. The Air Force didn't say where in California Hughes had lived under the O'Bierne name, or what charges he faces.

He allegedly told investigators that he became depressed while serving in the Air Force so he left and created a new identity for himself.

At the time of his disappearance, the Air Force said Hughes had a "Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation" clearance. He deserted in July 1983 after a temporary assignment in the Netherlands, and was last seen around Albuquerque, N.M., withdrawing $28,500 from 19 different bank locations.

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At the time of his disappearance, the 31-year-old office had top secret security clearance, working on "classified planning and analysis of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command, control and communications surveillance systems", U.S. military journal Stars and Stripes reports. On Aug. 1, 1983, he was supposed to return to work at Kirkland, but never turned up. Nevertheless speculation persisted that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets.

As it turns out, it appears to be exactly what Hughes did.

In a 1986 Los Angeles Times commentary titled "Sabotaged Missile Launches?" for example, the former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Tad Szulc wrote: "The French and American accidents are adding up to a freakish pattern, surrounded by odd coincidences and unexplained events, deeply preoccupying Western intelligence".

"He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars, ' if we have them", one intelligence officer told the Times.

He is now being held at Travis Air Force Base in California, faced with charges of peacetime desertion, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

But Card said no classified information leaks are suspected, nor is there an indication that Hughes was involved with the Soviet Union, but the investigation is ongoing. "We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily", his sister, Christine Hughes, said.

"Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story", Ms Card said.

USA deserters can face a number of charges once they are found, including prison time, being dishonourably discharged and losing pay.

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