A retired CIA veteran who once headed the interagency committee in charge of spy satellites said yesterday he saw "zero" damage from publication of three KH-11 photos last year in a British magazine.

Called as a defense witness at the espionage trial of Samuel Loring Morison, former CIA official Roland S. Inlow repeatedly and flatly disputed the prosecution's contentions that the disclosures could have given the Soviets important tips about U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities and priorities.

Morison, a civilian analyst at the Naval Intelligence Support Center, is charged with espionage and theft in the leaking of three photos of a Soviet nuclear aircraft carrier under construction to Jane's Defence Weekly in hopes of securing a full-time job there. His defense, constricted by rulings from the bench, tried to show that information about the KH-11, even though classified secret, was not "closely held" and that disclosure of the photos posed no danger to the nation.

Government prosecutor Michael Schatzow sought repeatedly to get Inlow to concede that Jane's August 1984 publication of the photos could at least have prompted the Soviets to take "countermeasures" against such satellite reconnaissance.

Inlow, who headed the U.S. intelligence community's Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation (COMIREX) for 10 years, responded with a soft-voiced lecture.

"The Soviet Union has a very good intelligence capability, very good analysts," he said. The countermeasures they take, Inlow said, "in my judgment, simply do not hinge on something so trivial or haphazard or chancy a thing as the appearance of these photographs in the western press."

Inlow said he was only mildly surprised when he saw two of the pictures of the 75,000-ton Soviet carrier republished in Aviation Week.

"My reaction was that somebody had decided to release these photographs," he recalled. "I was somewhat surprised at that. But in all honesty, my reaction was much more 'ho-hum' than 'oh, my God.' "

COMIREX, which Inlow headed from 1969 to 1979, decides what targets the KH-11 and other spy satellites should photograph and what agencies should get which photos to analyze. He directed the so-called "damage assessment" of CIA officer William Kampiles' 1978 sale of the entire KH-11 operations manual to a KGB agent for $3,000.

According to Inlow, the manual told the Soviets all they needed to know about the KH-11's technology. The 1984 photos, he suggested, could have hurt the United States only on two other scores: if the Soviets had been imprudent enough to assume that the satellites weren't working or if they had been surprised that it had been focused on the shipyard, a "very routine and mundane" target to which the KH-11 has "daily access."

"If they think it important to deny our imaging of an installation such as this, they will do so . . . independent of these three photographs," Inlow said. He concluded there was "zero" damage on all three scores. "Zero plus zero plus zero," he added, "is zero."

Other testimony dealt with companion espionage and theft counts stemming from Morison's taking home portions of two classified documents dealing with explosions at the main ammunition depot for the Soviet Union's Northern Fleet.

One witness, David R. Huff, who used to work with Morison at NISC, said it was "common practice to carry home" various papers one was working on. Another witness, former Washington Post reporter Scott Armstrong, said he had often received classified documents from government officials. Under the government's theory of the case, such activity would be a crime.

Defense lawyers then tried to call CBS television correspondent William Lynch and UPI reporter Richard C. Gross to confirm that stories they did in June 1984 about spy satellite information concerning the ammunition dump disaster came from government officials, but without naming the officials.

U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young said he respected the reporters' privilege not to name their sources, but held that this would put the prosecution at a disadvantage. He refused to allow it.