Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

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


A U.S. air force pilot who disappeared 35 years ago has been found alive and well, living in California under a false identity. He was in charge of highly classified operations involving NATO's command, control and communications surveillance systems, Task & Purpose, a news outlet run by and for veterans, reported.

In the days and weeks after he failed to report for duty in Kirtland, investigators found his vehicle at the Albuquerque International Airport. But after supposedly leaving for Europe, he was never seen again.

"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 US Air Force in 1983".

Hughes said he had been depressed about being in the Air Force so he deserted, made up the O'Beirne identity and moved to California, the Air Force said.

His family speculated he was abducted.

Hughes was unmarried when he disappeared, but the Seattle native had three sisters.

In 1986, journalist Tad Szulc wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece that at least some intelligence officers "believe that Hughes was either captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union".

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It is unknown whether family had been in contact with Hughes or knew of his whereabouts following his 1983 disappearance.

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".

In 1985 and 1986, several French and American rocket ships failed to launch properly and subsequently exploded, including the Challenger space shuttle.

In a 1986 Los Angeles Times commentary titled "Sabotaged Missile Launches?" for example, the former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Tad Szulc wrote: "The French and American accidents are adding up to a freaky pattern, surrounded by unusual coincidences and unexplained events, deeply preoccupying Western intelligence". Some believed that the perpetrators were from the Soviet Union.

The Air Force said that Hughes had a "Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation" clearance at the time of his disappearance. "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", says the BBC. "They (AFOSI investigators) said at this point there's no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information", Card said. But still, she said, the case remains under investigation. The Air Force declared Hughes a deserter in December 1998.

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

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