Three former CIA directors said last week they were not surprised that former director William J. Casey met repeatedly with Washington Post editor Bob Woodward. They were divided, however, over whether Casey was responsible for "leaking" delicate CIA secrets to him.

Two of the three expressed concern that revelations in Woodward's latest book, "Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987," could damage U.S. security interests.

Woodward's book has revived the debate over who was really responsible for a series of unauthorized leaks to the news media about covert operations under Casey.

Casey repeatedly blamed members of the Senate and House intelligence oversight committees for most of these disclosures. And Woodward quotes him as saying, "I told you congressional oversight can't work. Those bastards all leak."

But the book raises questions about whether Casey or his lieutenants were active "leakers" themselves.

The book also raises questions about the adequacy of congressional oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency -- most dramatically with its disclosure of how Casey circumvented both Congress and his agency and used the Saudi intelligence service to attempt the assassination of a Lebanese Shiite leader.

And its revelations about how the CIA bugs the leaders of other friendly governments, such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has provoked criticism that Woodward may have unnecessarily compromised U.S. national security interests.

Three former CIA directors -- Stansfield Turner, William E. Colby and Richard Helms -- said in separate interviews that they did not find Casey's decision to see Woodward repeatedly as unusual, particularly once Casey knew the journalist was writing a history of his leadership of the agency.

"I don't find it extraordinary at all," said Turner, director of central intelligence from 1977 to 1981. "He {Casey} wanted to put his best foot forward, and it was better a guy like Woodward understood him.

"It was a case of the biggest con man in the country taking on the best reporter. And I think the con man won.

"Bob very faithfully reprints Casey's views on these matters and I think that's what Casey wanted," Turner said. Casey "came off a lot better than he deserved."

But Turner said he did find it "very improper" that Casey saw Woodward as many times as Woodward said he did, given the late CIA director's concern about leaks.

"Casey came in obsessed with the idea this town leaks. He never got over that. And it cost him a great deal," Turner said.

Helms, CIA director from 1966 to 1973, noted that he had lunch often with reporters, usually at the old Occidental restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue next to the Willard Hotel. "It became a joke around town," he said.

"It was a perfectly open and above-board relationship," he said. "I simply did not discuss classified matters. Period."

Helms said he does not pretend to know what the relationship between Woodward and Casey was all about, but he expressed some doubts about the veracity of parts of the Woodward account, particularly the last scene in the book where the dying director is said to have admitted he knew of the diversion of Iranian arms sales funds to aid the Nicaraguan contras.

"It's a different book with Casey dead," he said, suggesting Woodward may have put words in Casey's mouth that he might not have, were Casey alive to contest their veracity.

Woodward, in response, said that almost the entire book had been completed before Casey's death and that the only changes afterward concerned details of the Iran-contra affair brought out during the congressional hearings. It is a "matter of record" with his publisher, Simon and Schuster, what he had written before Casey's death, he said.

Turner was less charitable toward Casey. He charged that Casey and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the dismissed National Security Council aide, were "two of the biggest leakers in town."

Colby, who headed the CIA from 1973 to 1976, concurred with Helms that Casey's decision to talk to Woodward was not unusual. In an interview, he said that he, too, had a delicate relationship with former New York Times investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh over his stories about "massive" illegal CIA intelligence activities within the United States.

But Colby indicated that, like Helms, he has doubts that some of the direct quotes attributed to Casey were authentic. He also said he was not sure from the Woodward book what Casey may have actually leaked to him and what he had simply confirmed when confronted by the reporter's questions.

Casey's former deputy at the agency, retired admiral Bobby Ray Inman, said on ABC News' "Nightline" last week that Woodward reported details of briefings that Inman gave Casey when Inman directed the National Security Agency, adding that the details didn't come "from me."

Colby, Helms and Inman all indicated last week they were disturbed about the impact of some of Woodward's disclosures on U.S. national security, specifically the CIA's cooperation with other governments and intelligence services.

Colby predicted the book will result in "more trouble" for the U.S. government abroad and reinforce doubts among other secret services that they can share secrets and information with the CIA.

The reaction, he predicted, is likely to be: "Oh, God, there go the Americans again. You can't deal with them."

Helms, in an appearance Thursday on "Nightline," said he thought Woodward's book had done "grave damage" to U.S. interests abroad.

Inman, interviewed on the same program, concurred. He denounced Woodward's "cavalier description of very sensitive U.S. sources and methods which clearly harm this country's ability over the long term to collect intelligence from many parts of the world."

Woodward, a guest on the same program, took sharp exception to "cavalier" and defended his disclosures. He said he had talked to "many, many people," "weighed the consequences" of his revelations carefully and had "kept cutting back on detail."

He said even the CIA has agreed the book has not damaged any ongoing covert operation.