Air Force’s ‘most wanted deserter’ discovered working on Janet Napolitano’s staff

The former head of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, managed to overlook the Air Force deserter with top-security clearance on her staff who has been a “most-wanted” fugitive for 35 years.

Nanette Asimov and Megan Cassidy report in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Employees in the University of California president’s office in Oakland knew their former colleague Tim O’Beirne as the personable, brainy number-cruncher for the UC system’s vast health benefits program.

They were stunned Tuesday to learn that the Air Force has identified him as William Howard Hughes Jr., a captain with top-secret clearance who vanished in 1983.  The Air Force declared him a deserter and one of its most wanted fugitives – and some suspected he had defected to the Soviets – until his capture last Wednesday.

Captain William Howard Hughes (credit: USAF Office of Special Investigations).

I will refrain from comparisons of defecting to the Soviet Union to defecting to Janet Napolitano’s staff because I am better than that.  Also, he managed to con his way into the U.C. Office of the president years before Napolitano brought her expertise in security to the running of the vast University of California empire in 2013.

He was contracted to work in the UC president’s office during the mid-2000s.

O’Beirne/Hughes appears to have risen to a fairly responsible position without any real background-checking:

Former colleagues say he worked for UC as a consultant for much of the 2000s, preparing presentations to the UC Regents, representing UC in labor negotiations and drawing up the documents that would set forth their health insurance benefits for the rest of their lives.

“This just floors me,” said Judy Boyette, a San Francisco attorney who signed O’Beirne’s consulting contracts when she ran human resources and benefits at UC more than a decade ago.  Looking at a photo of her former colleague in custody, Boyette was stunned.  “My gosh, that’s Tim!  Oh, my word.  That is unbelievable.  But that’s him!  Wow.”

She and other former colleagues described O’Beirne as smart, articulate – especially when describing complicated numbers and concepts so that others could understand them – and kind.

Hughes reportedly actually took a role in labor negotiations, which is one of the highest-profile and biggest responsibilities of the U.C. Office of the President.  The University of California suffers from labor strife and strike threats on a regular basis.  Payroll is a huge part of its budget.

Napolitano, an alleged expert on homeland security, apparently remained clueless for five years.  It was the Air Force that caught him.  And it seems to be squeezing him:

The Air Force said O’Beirne admitted last week that he was Hughes.  He is in confinement at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield amid an investigation, and has not been charged with a crime, said Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  No bail or court date have [sic] been set.

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