Air Force captures deserter 35 years after he disappeared

Missing Air Force officer who created fake identity found 35 years later

Missing Air Force officer who created fake identity found 35 years later

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.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has said that a fugitive captain has been apprehended in California after being declared a deserter nearly 35 years ago.

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

The Air Force said it declared Hughes a deserter December 9, 1983. Lists of plans and books he wanted to read were found inside his home, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

His sister, Christine Hughes, maintained that her brother would never defect or disappear without leaving a note, she told Associated Press in 1984. He had been at Kirtland since 1981, working on highly classified operations involving NATO's command, control and communications surveillance systems, according to the news release.

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.

According to the OSI, Hughes had "Top Secret / Single Scope Background Investigation clearance" at the time of his disappearance with access with U.S. Secret and NATO Secret information.

There was even speculation that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets. He created a fake identity and lived in California ever since.

The Office of Special Investigations declined to comment further on the case, telling ABC News the Air Force has nothing more to add until its legal department moves forward with a recommendation.

Hughes has claimed that he was depressed about his time in the Air Force and so chose to leave. The news of Hughes' disappearance made headlines the following year, with a front-page Albuquerque Journal announcing "Kirtland Launches Search for Officer Missing 5 Months" on January 17, 1984.

At the time of his disappearance, Hughes was in his early thirties. One such anonymous official said, "He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars, ' if we have them".

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

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". Hughes may also forfeit all pay that he received while he was part of the Air Force.

Hughes, now 66, has been charged with desertion.

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