Convicted Watergate burglar and former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt says giving money to foreign governments, like the reported grants to Jordan's King Hussein, is "an honored tradition within the CIA."

He said at a news conference today that he made substantial cash payments to government officials in Japan, Mexico and Uruguay while working as a Central Intelligence Agency station chief.

"The payments to foreign governments or to specific sections of their national police or clandestine service is a long and honored tradition within the CIA," Hunt said. "There is certainly nothing illegal about this."

Hunt did not say how much money was involved, where it came from or who received it.

Hunt, 58, made the comments at his first news conference since leaving the federal prison at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Wednesday.

The session was held at the suburban Boston office of his booking agent, who will oversee a series of lecture tours Hunt has planned.

Hunt served 32 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping in the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.

He said he assumed the payments, which he called "subsidies," were made in exchange for cooperation with the CIA.

"When I was chief of station abroad in many areas, it was common for me to pay substantial figures to government," Hunt said. "I certainly supported Uruguyan intelligence, the Mexican intelligence service - they have six or seven different ones - and the Japanese at one period."

He called former President Nixon "a very lucky man" because of his pardon by former President Ford. He said at the time he "applauded" the pardon, thinking one would also be extended to him.

"I have distilled it to his thought: "pardon one, pardon all,"" Hunt said when asked if he still approved of the Nixon pardon.

"Yes, I would say that I entertain a pretty good amount of bitterness," Hunt said.

He said he was misled by the Nixon administration about the legality of the 1972 break-in, which he described as "just a continum of my 21 years as a CIA officer."

Asked by whom he was misled, he singled out Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, former U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell and former Nixon aides John D. Ehrlichman and John W. Dean III.

"I had thought of (Nixon) as a strong national leader . . . but I don't think he was able to conceive of what was happening in realistic terms," Hunt said.

Hunt said he was especially bitter toward U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica for giving him a prison term of up to eight years.

The bitterness, he added, also extends to "those White House elements who remained in power after I was in prison and were too busy seeking their own salvation to pay any attention to the plight of those of us who were already broken and in custody.

"Because I've paid my price for Watergate: in sorrow . . . wasted years: in tragedy, ridicule and humiliation I feel no public act of contrition can be required of me," said Hunt.