US Air Force Nabs Deserter After 35 Years

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An Air Force captain who deserted in 1983 amid speculation of Cold War espionage was arrested last week at his home in California, where he had been living under a fictitious identity for 35 years, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations says in a statement that William Howard Hughes Jr. has been apprehended at his home after a fraud investigation. 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 been last seen in New Mexico, where he withdrew almost $30,000 from his bank account at 19 different branch locations.

He claimed he had been depressed about being in the air force so left and created a false identity. Hughes was charged with desertion.

"He was due back in Albuquerque that August 1".

Hughes was caught during a passport fraud investigation, after the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service interviewed a man claiming to be Barry O'Beirne.

But Card said no classified information leaks are suspected, nor is there an indication that Hughes was involved with the Soviet Union, but the investigation is ongoing.

There are several other fugitives on the Air Force's wanted list, including others who have been on the run since the 1980s for various reasons ranging from drug charges to security issues, the AP said.

Hughes was born in 1951, raised in Seattle and enlisted in the Air Force that same year, according to the Seattle Times.

At the time of his disappearance he had just returned from the Netherlands, where he had been working with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers.

A high ranking Air Force officer who had gone missing 35 years ago, was apprehended by officials in California.

In 1986, three years after his disappearance, journalist Tad Szulc wrote a piece published in the Los Angeles Times that referred to Hughes' "apparent defection" to the Soviet Union. "He was very pleasant", said neighbor June Dayao, 60, a retired teacher who recognised her neighbour's face in a photograph released by the Air Force.

Checks with law enforcement around the US and overseas, alongside interviews with those who knew Hughes, did not provide enough information for the Air Force to find him at the time.

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.

Mr Szulc also said an intelligence officer told him Capt Hughes was "worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future "Star Wars".