Missing Air Force officer with top-secret clearance found after 35 years

Missing Air Force officer with top-secret clearance found after 35 years

"After being confronted with inconsistencies about his identity, the individual admitted his true name was William Howard Hughes Jr., and that he deserted from the U.S. Air Force in 1983", the AFOSI news release read.

66, was taken into custody on Wednesday in a passport fraud investigation, the Air Force said.

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

Hughes, a captain at Kirtland Air Force Base, was 33 when he vanished.

Last week, almost 35 years after he went missing, the Air Force finally found Hughes living in California under the fictitious name "Barry O'Beirne". Hughes created a fake identity and lived under the pseudonym "Barry O'Beirne" for over three decades.

Hughes told authorities after his capture on Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and made a decision to leave.

He had been involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War. On Aug. 1, 1983, he was supposed to return to work at Kirkland, but never turned up.

He had just completed a stint in the Netherlands, where he worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft. Others speculated that he had defected -possibly to the Soviets - with the highly classified information, a notion that fomented conspiracy theories for years.

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Hughes' sister, Christine Hughes, told the Associated Press in a January 1984 article that the family believed he had been abducted, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Capt Hughes disappeared in 1983 after returning from temporary duty in western Europe.

After several rocket ship failures in the USA and France, including the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, Los Angeles Times journalist Tad Szulc theorised Capt Hughes may have been to blame.

"He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars, ' if we have them", Szulc quotes an unidentified intelligence officer as telling him.

Hughes Jr. masqueraded as "Barry O'Beirne" for over 35 years after he deserted his post with the U.S. Air Force.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations told the Albuquerque Journal there's no sign Hughes leaked classified information or was involved with the Soviet Union, but that investigations are underway.

Card said Hughes' family has been notified of his apprehension, but it is unknown whether they had been in contact with him or knew his whereabouts.

"Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story", she told the newspaper. He could face up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonorable discharge from the Air Force.

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