US Air Force Nabs Deserter After 35 Years

Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agents accused of defecting from the force in 1983 and using a fake identity while living in California

Captain William Howard Hughes Jr was last seen on 25 July 1983, when he withdrew a total of $28,500 (£21,300) from 19 bank branches around Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was stationed following his return from service in Europe.

He told authorities after his capture Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and made a decision to leave, saying he created a fake identity and lived in California since he vanished in 1983. Hughes created a fake identity and lived under the pseudonym "Barry O'Beirne" for over three decades.

Hughes, now 66, was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base in California.

Desertion carries maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.

What do we know about Capt Hughes?

He had been sent to the Netherlands July 18, 1983, to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers and was due back in Albuquerque on August 1, the Air Force said. He had a top secret clearance. In July 1983, Hughes had been assigned to temporary duty in the Netherlands to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers "on the operations of Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft" but never resurfaced after leaving for Europe.

He had just returned from a temporary assignment in The Netherlands, where he worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft.

Due to his access to classified information he was declared a fugitive and was on a list of the USAF's seven most wanted individuals. Meanwhile, his family and friends say that they didn't know about his current status or location.

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Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, told the Albuquerque Journal Sunday that to this day officials still do not have any evidence indicating leaks of classified information.

"Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story", she told the newspaper.

But more than 30 years after he dropped off the grid, Hughes was caught.

What were some of theories of why he disappeared?

"Intelligence officers believe that Hughes was either captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union", the Times said.

His auto was found at the Albuquerque airport and a search of his home in the 1900 block of Chandelle Loop NE revealed notes of planned activities and books to read upon his return, according to reports.

An article from Maddy Hayden for the Albuquerque Journal referenced a story from journo Tad Szulc about Hughes' disappearance in 1986, which suggested he'd defected to the Soviet Union. "Among his responsibilities was the training of range officers in charge of destroying rockets malfunctioning after launch".

"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.

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