National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. William E. Odom said yesterday he plans to resign as chief of the nation's most secretive intelligence agencies to pursue an academic and writing career.

Odom, 55, whose personal style made him a controversial figure within the NSA, said he has asked to resign effective Aug. 1, more than three years after he was appointed.

"I've served my tour," said Odom. "I've extended four months beyond what the normal {three-year} turnover is. I have 34 years active {military} duty. It's time to move on to another career."

Odom said he submitted his request to the secretary of the Army about 10 days ago. His request must be approved by the Army chief, Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci and the White House. The opening is likely to set off a scramble among the three military services seeking to position one of their own to fill the job.

"One of the major things I want to do is write a couple of books fairly quickly, and some articles," Odom, a Soviet scholar, said in a telephone interview.

The NSA -- based at Fort Meade near Columbia -- is considered the most secretive of the U.S. intelligence operations. Its intelligence gathering centers on intercepting telephone, radio, satellite and other types of communications worldwide with a vast network of satellites and other high-technology eavesdropping equipment.

Odom has been vocal in condemning government leaks about "signals intelligence," the most sensitive of the agency's work. At one point, he recommended that the government prosecute news organizations that reveal intelligence information.

"I've had to abhor the leaks of signals intelligence since I've been the director of NSA," Odom said. "It is a matter of duty for the director and I haven't taken it lightly."

In 1986, Odom became concerned about the attention that the trial of former NSA technician and Soviet spy Ronald W. Pelton had attracted. Odom, worried about intelligence methods and details that would be revealed, proposed a public warning to the news media to limit its reporting on the case, threatening to prosecute reporters who ignored such a warning. The warning was issued, but without Odom's recommendation for prosecution.

Odom, a three-star general, rose rapidly from teaching courses in Soviet government at West Point to heading the 50,000-employee agency. One of his strongest backers was a professor he knew at Columbia, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became President Carter's national security adviser. Brzezinski selected Odom as his military assistant and Odom's career began to flourish.

During the Carter administration, he was privy to planning responses to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian capture of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

He had such a reputation as a conservative military hardliner that Odom was known as "Zbig's superhawk."

Odom said he would return to writing about Soviet and national security affairs, which he said he "has not been able to do for awhile" because of his current job.

He said he planned to remain in the Washington area because his wife, Anne Curtis Odom, is a museum curator here.