A former Air Force officer, Howard Hughes Jr., was missing for over 35 years. However, on June 6, Hughes was found and arrested in California. When asked about why he disappeared, Hughes simply said that he was “depressed” about his post and wanted to leave. Hughes created a fake identity and lived under the pseudonym “Barry O’Beirne” for over three decades.
Military.com reported that Hughes was found due to a passport fraud investigation. In fact, just a day before Hughes’ arrest, the man was interviewed by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service over possible passport fraud, detailed the Air Force Times. The interview was held with “Barry O’Beirne,” but it didn’t take long for officials to realize the man’s true identity.
At the time of his disappearance, Hughes was in his early thirties. He was single and was involved in NATO’s control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War, according to the Washington Times. Hughes also had top security clearance and deserted his post on July 25, 1983. He was working at the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at the Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Hughes was expected back on duty from a short stint in Europe on August 1, 1983 but he never reported to duty. The only clue Hughes left behind was a trail of bank withdrawals, where he pulled out $28,500 from 19 different branches. On December 1983, the Air Force declared Hughes a deserter.
Hughes was apprehended at his California home. Meanwhile, his family and friends say that they didn’t know about his current status or location. Back in 1984, his family said that Hughes had likely been kidnapped. Some believed that the perpetrators were from the Soviet Union. His sister Christine said, “We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily,” detailed the Albuquerque Journal.
Later in 1986, a Los Angeles Times article also speculated that Hughes had defected to the Soviet Union. The article also insinuated that Hughes’ possible move to the other side was partly to blame for the Challenger disaster.
Although in the past, some believed that Hughes had leaked highly confidential information to the Soviet Union, officials believe that no such leak took place. Linda Card from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations elaborated.
“They (AFOSI investigators) said at this point there’s no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information… Until we have the whole story, we don’t have the story.”
Hughes faces desertion charges, which carries a maximum of five years in prison. Hughes may also forfeit all pay that he received while he was part of the Air Force.