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Air Force Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr
Air Force Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr

Missing Air Force Officer Found After More than 30 Years (and Its Indirect Link with the UFO-Bennewitz Affair)

On June 10th the Albuquerque Journal ran a somewhat quizzical article: An Air Force officer who mysteriously disappeared almost 35 years ago had just been located and apprehended, living under a different identity in California.

According to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), the State Department was recently investigating a man claiming to be “Barry O’Beirne” during a passport fraud inquiry.

“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 U.S. Air Force in 1983,” an AFOSI news release reads.

Hughes, now 66, told investigators that he was “depressed” about his Air Force career, so he assumed the fictitious identity of O’Beirne and had been living in California ever since.

But AFOSI spokeswoman Linda Card said there are many more questions to be answered as the investigation continues.

The reason why this particular story should be interesting to the readers of the Daily Grail, is because Hughes used to be stationed at the Kirtland Air Force base by the time he went AWOL (specifically, at the Air Force Operation Test and Evaluation Center). Around the same time a man by the name of Paul Bennewitz –a brilliant electrical engineer residing in Albuquerque, who aside from running a successful company that performed contracts for the Air Force, was also a UFO enthusiast and member of APRO— had been sounding the alarms and was utterly convinced that the strange lights he’d been observing for years over Kirtland and the Manzano Weapons Storage Area (a humongous man-made cavern built inside a mountain to store nuclear weapons, which was decommissioned in 1992) were evidence of nepharious Extraterrestrial activity. The hypnosis session conducted by Dr. Leo Sprinkle on a woman named Myrna Hansen, coupled with the strange signals coming from the base that he had been able to pick up and ‘decipher’ using sophisticated equipment of his own creation, further cemented in his already-unstable mind the idea that the so-called alien abduction phenomenon was connected to cattle mutilations; how he connected these dots pointed out to nothing short of an impending global-scale colonization plan perpetrated by a malevolent ET faction hiding at secret underground bases, which had been able to infiltrate the highest echelons of power through the use of implanted ‘sleeper agents’.

Paul Bennewitz
Paul Bennewitz

The culmination of this paranoid obsession was Project Beta, a guideline of sorts Bennewitz wrote in 1988 as a way to warn the powers that be and offer a strategy to fight back the evil aliens. 30 years have passed and the UFO subculture still shows the indelible mark of Bennewitz’s legacy, every time some fledgling newcomer to the field gets hooked on stories about the ‘Dulce alien base’ and the demonic genetic experiments conducted at its deeper levels.

Greg Bishop and his book Project Beta

There’s no better source to learn about the Bennewitz affair and Project Beta than Greg Bishop’s homonimous book, but the thing to keep in mind is not whether one should attempt to validate or refute Bennewitz’s claims –and even some of his most ardent critics admitted the lights he had tracked and filmed on repeated occasions looked anomalous– but that the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), through the use of Sgt. Richard Doty, did carry out a concerted program to further leave Bennewitz astray in his incredible beliefs of alien invasion and secret desert bases. This was done to safeguard the extremely sensitive programs which were being carried out inside the Kirtland base by several intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the NSA; programs like the adaptive optics laser systems used to track down Soviet satellites in orbit –a technology which was later implemented in astronomy to increase the accuracy of optical telescopes.

Kirtland AFB
Kirtland AFB

Now getting back to the recent news article, I’m NOT saying Capt. William Howard Hughes’s dessertion and 3-decades long dissapearance is directly connected with the Bennewitz affair, but the Albuquerque Journal’s text does indicate he was deeply involved in “highly classified operations involving NATO’s command, control and communications surveillance systems” –the type of National Security-related ops Doty was commissioned to protect using questionnable tactics that caused Bennewitz to have a complete nervous breakdown; afterwhich Bennewitz was institutionalized by his family, and once he returned home he abandoned the UFO field entirely and lived a quiet life until his death in 2003.

How involved was Hughes with these secret projects? Enough to warrant a newspaper article by the same Albuquerque Journal in 1984 detailing his disappearance. In another article by the Associated Press Hughes’s sisters voiced their concern that he could have been abducted by Russian spies. It’s clear the Air Force had similar preocupations, but at the same time they didn’t rule out the possibility of Hughes willingly deffecting to the Soviets.

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.

Szulc’s article came amid suspicions that the Challenger disaster and explosion of a French rocket may have been due to Soviet sabotage.

“He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future ‘Star Wars,’ if we have them,” Szulc quotes an unidentified intelligence officer as telling him.

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.

Leaving aside the circumstancial link to Bennewitz and Project Beta, this is definitely a weird case. There could be many reasons why a man would opt to leave his career behind, despite the obvious legal and penal consequences –dessertion is no small potatoes in the Military– but why do so in such a ‘spooky’ way? Back in ’83 after a temporary assignment in the Netherlands Hughes failed to report for duty at Kirtland in August, and the authorities found his car at the Albuquerque airport and no evidence at his home he was planning to ago AWOL. According to the AFOSI news release, he was seen at the time withdrawing more than $28,000 from bank accounts.

It’s not likely Hughes’s capture will shed more light about the shady cloack-and-dagger businesses which were being conducted at Kirtland AFB during one of the most tense moments of the Cold War — at the time Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement in Poland was beginning to erode the  once-indomitable Iron Curtain, and the apocalyptic movie The Day After was aired on TV the same year Hughes disappeared– when Ronald Reagan was threatening the ‘evil empire’ with Star Wars tech so valuable, it was worth driving a private citizen like Paul Bennewitz insane and build an entire UFO myth as a result of it.

We also don’t know whether the former Air Force captain had other ulterior motives to leave without a trace aside from geting ‘depressed’ about his career; but we should keep our ears to the ground and observe how this story progresses nonetheless.

  1. Really? I mean really? This is a very long stretch indeed to try to link him to Doty and Bennewitz and Project Beta.

    It could well be nothing more than he was pissed about not getting a promotion he wanted (“depressed about his Air Force career” could mean just that).

    AFOSI’s interest is because of the program he ghosted. Seems all they cared about was whether he defected with classified information. He didn’t, unless you’d call stealing away from New Mexico to live in California defection.

    1. The story proved to be a good opportunity to try and educate TDG readers about one of the most interesting (and less discussed) chapters in UFO history.

      The story also highlighted the level of paranoia that prevailed in the US Military culture during the early 1980s. The fact that people suspected Hughes might have been either captured by the Soviets or defected is proof of that; it was certainly a cause of concern given the knowledge he had about the type of projects Doty was protecting when he was bamboozling Doty.

      Like I said in the article, I’m NOT saying Hughes’s disappearance was directly linked to the Bennewitz affair, only that it is very possible he was involved in those porgrams, which were so important to the United States government, they were willing to do ANYTHING to protect them –including creating an entire UFO myth out of whole cloth.

      Now, if I’m permitted a little bit of leeway with regards to speculation, I do wonder just how extensive was AFOSI’s search for Hughes. I mean somebody pointed out to me on Twitter the guy didn’t even bother to change his hairstyle during his 3 decades of clandestine escape! 😉

  2. Yeah. You could say this guy was hiding in plain sight for 30 years.

    I do agree that Project Beta is a fascinating story that sheds no light on alleged ETs but plenty on the activity of military intelligence and the lengths to which it would go in the 1980s to protect classified projects and hardware.

    I do think, though, that Bennewitz was a “one-off” due to not only his company having a Kirtland HVAC contract (so he or his employees likely were all over the base), but also his proximity to the base allowing him to witness some classified activities. These combined with the questionable mental state that led him to report those activities as being conducted by ETs would have made him a matter of concern. That much is understandable.

    The driving him crazier part has always sounded like it might have been a rogue operation. In other words, they did it to him just because they could.

    1. Well, we just don’t know if Bennewitz was a “one-off” because Doty “went out the reservation,” as some people have alluded. There’s the matter of the MJ-12 papers, for example. I am of the opinion that they were fabricated, but that in order to fabricate them it would have taken some effort and resources. Was that just Doty getting overtly creative with his duties?

      And there’s also the meeting he had with Linda Howe when he let her read that ‘report’ stating Jesus was created by the aliens (!), which effectively derailed her HBO documentary. Was that just part of the rogue op too?

  3. I meant Bennewitz was a one-off who received over-the-top treatment. They were playing elaborate mind games with him, knowing he was already unbalanced. It was taken to an extreme level and very likely could have been handled differently and better.

    MJ-12, who besides Stanton Friedman ever took that very seriously? Early on there was general agreement in Ufology those papers were fakes. Linda Moulton Howe seems to believe anything. I have a rode-hard 2003 Toyota I bet I could sell to her if I tell her a good story that has ETs or cattle mutilations in it.

    1. Oh ok, I understand what you mean by “over the top treatment.” But again, maybe Bennewitz wasn’t that much of an exception. Remember Morris K. Jessup? After he had that interview with Navy members he returned home, got deppressed and committed suicide.

      There’s also the case of Orfeo Angelucci. Nick Redfern wrote about how once he met with a man who seemed to have been an Intelligence agent who dosed with him LSD. So again, maybe these aren’t “one-offs”.

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