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

A high ranking Air Force officer, who went missing 35 years ago, was apprehended by officials when they found him living under a false identity in California on June 6. "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", the Air Force Office of Special Investigations told CNN.

Hughes was involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War.

Hughes has claimed that he was depressed about his time in the Air Force and so made a decision to leave.

Agents from the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations took Hughes into custody at his California home Wednesday, the Air Force said.

He is now being held at Travis Air Force Base in California, faced with charges of peacetime desertion, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service caught on to Hughes's whereabouts, which were not specified, during a passport fraud investigation, leading them to the man named O'Beirne.

Before he mysteriously disappeared and landed on the Air Force Most Wanted list, Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. phoned home to tell his mother and father that he was going to the Netherlands. He faces up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonorable discharge from the Air Force. That would be "totally out of character for the Bill we knew", she said.

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William Howard Hughes Jr. allegedly deserted the Air Force in July 1983 after coming back from temporary duty in Western Europe, the Air Force said.

Hughes was supposed to travel to the Netherlands in July 1983 to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the operations of AWACS electronic surveillance planes. He was supposed to report back to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico in August 1983, but he didn't show up.

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

The veteran specialized in radar surveillance.

"We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily", his sister, Christine Hughes, had said, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

After several rocket ship failures in the U.S. and France, including the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, Los Angeles Times journalist Tad Szulc theorised Capt Hughes may have been to blame.

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". "Among his responsibilities was the training of range officers in charge of destroying rockets malfunctioning after launch". "Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story".

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