RFE/RL: Joel Brenner, the head of the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, says Russia still spies on the West, particularly the United States. Does that make sense to you?
William Odom: Of course. It always has, [Russia] knows how to do that well. It's always known how to do that better than it's known how to run its economy, it's political system. Therefore it's continuing to do it. I would be terribly surprised if it didn't.
RFE/RL: Is spying by Russia at the Cold War level?
Odom: I have no idea, I'm not in that business now. But if it is, I would not be surprised. In the case of the Russians, they have an employment problem. A lot of this [post-Cold War espionage] is to keep spies they already have trained employed.
RFE/RL: What kind of information is Russia looking for? Does it tend to be political/strategic spying, or since the breakup of the Soviet Union has it grown to include industrial spying?
Odom: It hasn't grown into it, it's always been that. It's always been a major, major factor. Countries which are behind in technology try to steal it from others. I suspect that's a very large part of the effort today for the Russians. But strategic and other kinds of intelligence -- and certainly political and certainly political and personal and biographical analysis -- is terribly important.
RFE/RL: The West certainly doesn't publicly regard Russia and China as enemies, but -- as President George W. Bush once said -- as "strategic competitors." Should we be as concerned about spying by competitors as we were about spying by enemies?
Odom: It is my view that you're remiss if you don't stay as highly informed as possible about all other countries' intelligence activities in your country -- especially [by] our friends, and by all means those who are less than friends. It would be, I think, a serious mistake not to do that. And we tend not to do that. We're not sufficiently paranoid on these fronts inside our own intelligence apparatus and inside lead policy circles.
RFE/RL: Are these competitors the only ones spying in, say, the United States and Britain? Aren't friendly countries doing the same? And why?
Odom: There was a report that Air France was bugging its passenger seats because a lot of U.S. businessmen traveled on them, and they discussed proprietary business information there, which the French wanted. If they did that, it's reasonable to suspect that's not the only commercial intelligence they were engaged in.
RFE/RL: Does the United States reciprocate?
Odom: When it comes to technology, we don't have much incentive to go after it. What if we discovered some business information about markets out there in the world? What would the government do? Auction it off to American companies that wanted to use it? That's not really helpful for our decision makers. Political and general economic analysis and military things are the objects of our strongest intelligence needs. And at the national level, policy-making level, 95 percent of that information can be gotten out of open sources -- the media and the press and universities, etc. What you need to make policy is good information, and most good information is highly available. In political and economic general analysis, you find a lot of help from the open sources.
RFE/RL: Talk of spying on behalf of friendly countries recalls the case of Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence officer who was convicted in a U.S. court of spying for Israel and was sentenced to life in prison. Why so harsh a punishment for a man who spied for a close ally? Did Pollard hurt the United States that badly?
Odom: Yes. Israeli interests and U.S. interests are not always the same. The idea that you let English, German, French, Israeli, Japanese spies run around here violating our laws is not something I'm going to accept. And when we start doing that, why have any intelligence? Let's just give it up.
AT THE MICROPHONE. RFE/RL frequently conducts in-depth interviews with leading newsmakers and analysts from throughout its broadcast region. Transcripts of many of these interviews have been gathered on a special archive page.