Odom, William Eldridge, LTG

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Last Rank
Lieutenant General
Last Service Branch
Last MOS Group
General Officer
Primary Unit
1985-1988, 2025, National Security Agency (NSA)
Service Years
1954 - 1988
Foreign Language(s)


Lieutenant General

Two Overseas Service Bars

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Home State
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Odom, William Eldridge, LTG USA(Ret).
Contact Info
Home Town
Last Address
Lincoln, VT

Date of Passing
May 30, 2008
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

Presidential Service Badge NSACSS Badge US Army Retired US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)

Army Staff Identification Infantry Shoulder Cord US Army Retired (Pre-2007)

 Unofficial Badges 

 Military Association Memberships
Association of Former Intelligence Officers
  1988, Association of Former Intelligence Officers

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

William Eldridge Odom (June 23, 1932 – May 30, 2008) was a retired U.S. Army 3-star general, and former Director of the NSA under President Ronald Reagan, which culminated a 31 year career in military intelligence, mainly specializing in matters relating to the Soviet Union. After his retirement from the military he became a think tank policy expert and a university professor and became known for his outspoken criticism of the Iraq War and warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. He died of an apparent heart attack at his vacation home in Lincoln, Vermont.

General Odom earned a national reputation as an expert on the Soviet Union. Early in his military career he had an opportunity to observe Soviet military activities while serving as a military liaison in Potsdam, Germany. Later, he taught courses in Russian history at West Point, New York, and while serving at the United States embassy in Moscow in the early 1970s, he visited all of the republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Although constantly trailed by KGB, he nonetheless managed to smuggle out a large portion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's archive, including the author's membership card for the Writers' Union and Second World War military citations; Solzhenitsyn subsequently paid tribute to Odom's role in his memoir "Invisible Allies" (1995).

Upon returning to the United States, he resumed his career at West Point where he taught courses in Soviet politics. Odom regularly stressed the importance of education for military officers.

In 1977, he was appointed as the military assistant to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish assistant for national security affairs to President Jimmy Carter. Primary issues he focused on at this time included American-Soviet relations, including the SALT nuclear weapons talks, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran hostage crisis, presidential directives on the situation in the Persian Gulf, terrorism and hijackings, and the executive order on telecommunications policy.

From 2 November 1981 to 12 May 1985, Odom served as the Army's Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence. From 1985 to 1988, he served as the director of the National Security Agency, the United States' largest intelligence agency, under president Ronald Reagan.

Odom was a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he specialized in military issues, intelligence, and international relations. He was also an adjunct professor at Yale University and Georgetown University, where he taught seminar courses in U.S. National Security Policy and Russian Politics.

Since 2005 he had argued that US interests would be best served by an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, having called the Iraq war the worst strategic blunder in the history of U.S. foreign policy. He had also been critical of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping of international calls, having said "it wouldn't have happened on my watch". Odom was also openly critical of the Neocon influence in the decision to go to war, having said "It's pretty hard to imagine us going into Iraq without the strong lobbying efforts from AIPAC and the neocons, who think they know what's good for Israel more than Israel knows."

General Odom is a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

Other Comments:
Lieutenant General William Odom, who has died aged 75, was one of the pre-eminent Sovietologists and Russian speakers in the American armed forces during the Cold War.

Odom emerged as a force on the Washington scene when he was appointed as military aide to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Polish-American scholar and geo-strategist who served as President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser from 1977 to 1981.

Odom had first caught Brzezinski's eye when he taught at Columbia University, where the budding soldier-scholar obtained a doctorate on Soviet voluntary organisations. They rapidly forged a close partnership that would endure for the best part of four decades: Odom was the staunchest supporter of Brzezinski in urging Carter to be more robust in his dealings with the Eastern Bloc. He duly became became known in some quarters as "Brzezinski's Brzezinski".

The balance tilted decisively in Brzezinski's and Odom's favour after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Two documents drafted by Odom proved critical. In September 1980 Brezezinski forwarded Odom's memorandum to Carter recommending a decisive shift away from a "de facto policy of strategic retreat in the world to a policy of strategic and regional competition with Soviet power".

This constituted the unsung groundwork for President Reagan's much more vociferous challenge to Communism after he defeated Carter in November 1980. Odom counselled a more vigorous approach to Soviet expansionism in the Third World, including enhanced aid to the Afghan mujahideen; a renewed emphasis on human rights towards the Soviet Union, which he termed "the brilliant obverse of international class struggle"; and more vigorous employment of COCOM controls on high technology exports to the Warsaw Pact countries. (COCOM is the 
Co-ordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls.)

"We have laws that allow the President to force Europe to choose between the US as a trading partner and the Soviet bloc as a market. Once the allies are whipped into line, we can dictate the terms of East-West trade," Odom noted.

Presciently, Odom concluded: "The Soviet Union, however militarily strong it is, suffers enormous centrifugal political forces. A shock could bring surprising developments within the USSR, just as we have seen occurring in Poland. The dissolution of the Soviet Union is not a wholly fanciful prediction for later in this century."

Odom's other achievement in this period was Presidential Directive 59, which effectively replaced the nuclear doctrine promulgated by the former Defence Secretary Robert MacNamara known as "Mutual Assured Destruction", or MAD.

There was nothing theoretical about such planning. Odom rang Brzezinski at 3am one morning to inform him that 2,200 Soviet missiles had been launched at the United States. Just before Brzezinski was about to call the President to order the launch of American missiles, Odom called back to say that it had been a false alarm – someone had mistakenly placed military exercise tapes into the computer system. Brzezinski did not wake his wife, reckoning that everyone would be dead in half an hour anyway.

William Eldridge Odom was born on June 23 1932 at Cookeville, Tennessee. Two of his great-grandparents had fought for the Confederacy; another direct descendant, Colonel George Waller, served in the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War and was present at Yorktown when George Washington received the surrender from Cornwallis.

After graduating from West Point in 1954 Odom trained with mechanised infantry and tank battalions of the Cold War garrison forces in West Germany and then mastered Russian at the US Army Language School in Monterey, California – the springboard for his intelligence career.

From 1964 to 1966 Odom served on the US Military Liaison Mission to the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, based in Potsdam. In May 1965, when returning to headquarters, he was surrounded and stoned by an angry mob of East Germans, who had attended an officially sponsored anti-Vietnam war rally. Had Odom's driver stopped, they would both have been killed; instead he accelerated, and was duly decorated by his boss.

From 1972 to 1974 Odom was assistant army attaché at the Moscow embassy. Although constantly trailed by Soviet military intelligence, or the GRU, he nonetheless managed to smuggle out a large portion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's archive, including the author's membership card for the Writers' Union and Second World War military citations; Solzhenitsyn subsequently paid tribute to Odom's role in his memoir Invisible Allies (1995).

Odom displayed intellectual courage as well. In 1975 he wrote an article for Foreign Policy magazine entitled "Who Controls Whom in Moscow"; it was a response to the fashionable notion, peddled by the then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger among others, that the American and Soviet leaderships had difficulty in controlling their military hardliners. Odom showed conclusively that the Red Army was squarely under party control.

Odom's well-known forthrightness did him little apparent harm. In 1981 he was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff of the US Army for Intelligence. Four years later he became Director of the National Security Agency, the multi-billion-dollar global signals intelligence organisation based at Fort Meade, Maryland, which dwarfs the CIA in size and budgets. This made Odom the principal SIGINT (signals intelligence) adviser to the Secretary of Defence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff; but he took very seriously his role in supplying the NSA's "product" to other "customers", most notably the CIA's William Casey, with whom he enjoyed excellent relations.

The two men again teamed up when Bob Woodward, of the Washington Post, sought to print details of Operation "Ivy Bells", a listening device planted around Soviet underwater cables in the Sea of Okhotsk by American mini-submarines.

Odom and Casey threatened the newspaper's editor, Ben Bradlee, with legal action for imperilling national security. Bradlee argued that, since the US Navy operation had already been betrayed by Ronald Pelton, the NSA defector, there was nothing more left to hide. Odom argued that the less said the better: no one could be certain what Pelton had actually said to his Communist masters.

After retirement from the US Army in 1988 Odom became a popular adjunct professor at Yale, and recently teamed up again with Brzezinski at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. He published seven further books, including Fixing Intelligence (2003) and America's Inadvertent Empire (2004).

During his final years, Odom's profile was never higher. He became one of the most vociferous critics of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, penning columns such as "What's Wrong with Cutting and Running?".

In 2007 he was chosen by the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to deliver the riposte to President Bush's weekly radio address. His last column, co-authored in May this year with Brzezinski, advocated renewed American engagement with Iran.

With his trademark large cigar, Odom sounded like a classic east Tennessean "good 'ole boy"; but this utterly unconventional polymath was most comfortable with east European émigré intellectuals discoursing about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

The US Army, perhaps the most conformist organisation in America, managed to produce the most nonconformist of officers at a critical moment in Cold War history.

William Odom, who died in Vermont on May 30, married, in 1962, Anne Curtis, one of America's leading authorities on Russian art. Their only son, Lieuetnant Colonel Mark Odom of the US Army Rangers, was wounded in Iraq in 2007.

In 1988, General Odom retired from the Army and NSA and began a career in academia. He was a resident of Washington but had taught at Yale University since 1989. He wrote seven books in the past 16 years, including the authoritative "The Collapse of the Soviet Military," which portrayed the Soviet military hierarchy as bloated and hopelessly corrupt.

"He was a genuine scholar who loved scholarship and wrote some important books and was a very effective teacher," said Brzezinski, who added that he and General Odom often played tennis. "He was better than me," Brzezinski said.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Anne Odom, a former chief curator of the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, of Washington and Lincoln, Vermont; a son, Army Lieutenant Colonel Mark Odom, of Fort Lewis, Washington, who was wounded in action in Iraq; a brother; a sister; and a granddaughter.

NOTE: General Odom was laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 8 September 2008 following services in the Fort Myer, Virginia, Memorial Chapel.

DATE OF BIRTH: 06/23/1932
DATE OF DEATH: 05/30/2008

Military career

  • 1954 Graduated from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.
  • 1954–1960, Served in both the United States and West Germany.
  • 1962, Earned a Masters Degree from Columbia University, and married Anne Weld Curtis.
  • 1964–1966, Served as part of the military liaison mission to the Soviet Union at Potsdam, Germany.
  • 1966–1969, Taught at West Point as an assistant professor of government.
  • 1970, Completed a Ph.D. at Columbia.
  • 1970–1971, At this point a Lieutenant Colonel, served in Vietnam, being on the Staff of Plans, Policy, and Programs, and working on the Vietnamization phase of the war.
  • 1971–1972, Odom was a visiting scholar at the Research Institute on Communist Affairs at Columbia.
  • 1972–1974, US assistant military attaché at the United States embassy in Moscow.
  • 1974, Published The Soviet Volunteers: Modernization and Bureaucracy in a Public Mass Organization, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 360 pp.)
  • 1974–1975, Associate of the Research Institute on International Change at Columbia
  • 1974–1977, Associate professor, Department of Social Science at West Point.
  • 1975–1976, Associate member of the Columbia University Seminar on Communism
  • 1975–1977, Senior research associate, Research Institute on International Change at Columbia
  • 1981, promoted to Major General
  • 1977–1981, Military assistant to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the assistant to the president for national security affairs.
  • 1981–1985, Assistant chief of staff for intelligence, United States Army.
  • 1984, promoted to Lieutenant General.
  • 1985–1988, Director of the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland


  • 1989, Director of national security studies, Hudson Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • 1989, Adjunct professor, political science, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
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Expert Infantryman
Parachutist (Basic)

 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1950, US Military Academy (West Point, NY)
 Unit Assignments
Basic Airborne Course (BAC) Airborne SchoolMilitary Liaison Misson PotsdamUnited States Military Academy West Point (Staff)Military Assistance Command Vietnam MACV
Defense Attache Office (USDAO), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)Military Mission MoscowDepartment of the Army (DA)National Security Agency (NSA)
  1954-1954, 6, Basic Airborne Course (BAC) Airborne School
  1964-1966, 9301, Military Liaison Misson Potsdam
  1966-1969, United States Military Academy West Point (Staff)
  1970-1971, 9300, HHC, Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV)
  1972-1974, 9303, United States Defense Attache Office, Moscow, USSR, Defense Attache Office (USDAO)
  1972-1974, Military Mission Moscow
  1974-1977, 2728, United States Military Academy West Point (Staff)
  1981-1985, 00GD, DA G2
  1985-1988, 2025, National Security Agency (NSA)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1970-1970 Vietnam War/Winter-Spring 1970 Campaign
  1970-1971 Vietnam War/Counteroffensive Phase VII Campaign (1970-71)
 Colleges Attended 
United States Military AcademyColumbia UniversityColumbia UniversityYale University
  1950-1954, United States Military Academy
  1960-1962, Columbia University
  1969-1970, Columbia University
  1989-2003, Yale University
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