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Air Force arrests long-sought fugitive, a deserter with top secret clearance

Capt. William Howard Hughes, Jr. was formally declared a deserter by the Air Force Dec. 9, 1983. He was apprehended June 6, 2018, by Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agents from Detachment 303, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where he's awaiting pre-trial confinement. (U.S. AIR FORCE)

An Air Force most-wanted fugitive went by an alias for nearly 35 years until a passport fraud investigation led to his arrest this week.

Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr., who had top secret clearance and access to NATO secret information when he deserted from the Air Force, was apprehended at his home in California on Wednesday, investigators said.

Hughes, who lived all these years as Barry O’Beirne, deserted on July 25, 1983, while he was assigned to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. , the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said. He worked on classified planning and analysis of NATO command, control and communications surveillance systems.

OSI special agents at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., captured Hughes without incident, the Air Force said.

After returning from temporary duty in Western Europe, Hughes was last seen in Albuquerque, N.M., where he withdrew $28,500 from his bank account at 19 different branch locations.

Hughes revealed his true identity on Tuesday during a passport fraud investigation by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.

According to the Air Force, Hughes claimed that in 1983 he was depressed about being in the service so he left, created the fictitious identity of O’Beirne and had been living in California ever since.

Family, close friends and co-workers had claimed they didn’t know his whereabouts, and law enforcement agencies in the United States and overseas couldn’t locate him.

Hughes is currently at Travis Air Force Base awaiting pretrial confinement.


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