Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Air Force officer who vanished in 1983 found using fake ID

Air Force officer who vanished in 1983 found using fake ID

Capt William Howard Hughes Jr, who had top-secret clearance, was last seen withdrawing $28,500 (£21,300) from his bank account at 19 different locations in New Mexico.

More than three decades ago, Hughes was involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the tail end of the Cold War.

But, after completing a tour of duty in the Netherlands and spending two weeks on holiday in Europe, Capt. Hughes vanished.

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. Hughes was single when he disappeared and said he had lived in California as O'Beirne since.

At the time of his disappearance, he had top secret investigation clearance and was assigned to the air force operational test and evaluation centre in Kirtland, New Mexico.

Interviews with Hughes' friends and associates and inquiries with law enforcement agencies in the United States and overseas failed to locate him, the statement said, and he was formally declared a deserter on December 9, 1983. Inside his townhouse they discovered a to-do list and a list of books Hughes planned to read upon his return.

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.

There was even speculation that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets.

Although Hughes told the authorities he abandoned his air force career because he had gotten "depressed", and assumed a fake identity before settling down in California, the AFOSI authorities said there were a number of questions that still remain unanswered regarding his disappearance, which will be revealed as investigation into his actions continued.

Hughes, now 66, has been charged with desertion.

"Intelligence officers believe that Hughes was either captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union", the Times said. But eventually the Air Force and Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had no evidence indicating any top-secret information had been leaked or that Hughes engaged in espionage.

Linda Card, spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, told the Albuquerque Journal that at this stage, investigators have had "no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information". But still, she said, the case remains under investigation.

Capt Hughes is now being held at Travis Air Force Base in California, a statement from the USAF's office of special investigations said.

He could face up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonourable discharge from the air force.

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