US Air Force deserter says went missing because 'depressed'

12 June, 2018, 08:44 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Missing Air Force officer with top-secret clearance found after 35 years

An Air Force captain who deserted in 1983 amid speculation of Cold War espionage was arrested last week at his home in California, where he had been living under a fictitious identity for 35 years, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said.

When investigators confronted him about "inconsistencies about his identity", the man confessed that his real name was William Howard Hughes Jr., and that he deserted the Air Force in 1983, according to the Office of Special Investigations.

Hughes told authorities he was depressed about being in the Air Force and chose to leave, creating a false identity.

Hughes apparently lived in California under the assumed identity of Barry O'Beirne.

Hughes was taken into custody without incident and is at Travis Air Force Base in California awaiting pre-trial confinement, the Air Force said.

U.S. deserters can face a number of charges once they are found, including prison time, being dishonourably discharged and losing pay. But the Air Force never heard from him since he left for Europe.

Interviews with Hughes' friends and associates and inquiries with law enforcement agencies in the USA and overseas failed to locate him, the statement said, and he was formally declared a deserter on December 9, 1983.

The Air Force declared him a deserter on December 9 of that same year.

Hughes was seen in the Albuquerque area withdrawing more than $28,000 from bank accounts, according to the AFOSI news release.

He was seized by air force agents at his California home after being interviewed by officials investigating passport fraud earlier this month.

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It was July 17, 1983, and the Air Force was sending Hughes overseas on a mission to help North Atlantic Treaty Organisation test aircraft surveillance systems.

At the time of his "abrupt" disappearance, Hughes specialized in radar surveillance.

Hughes, now 66, deserted after a brief assignment in the Netherlands where he worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers. He will likely face charges of desertion.

Military officials said Hughes had access only to secret information pertinent to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Told one of Hughes' three sisters at the time, 'We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily'.

Later in 1986, a Los Angeles Times article also speculated that Hughes had defected to the Soviet Union.

His family speculated he was abducted.

Responding to Hughes' claims of deserting the air-force cause he was depressed, AFOSI spokeswoman Linda Card said there were many more questions to be answered as the investigation continues.

"Szulc quoted an unidentified intelligence officer who told him, "[Hughes] is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars, ' if we have them".

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