MOSCOW, OCT. 21 -- Edward Lee Howard, the first CIA agent ever to defect to the Soviet Union, said in an interview today that he has secretly visited the West using fake passports "five to seven times" since fleeing the United States five years ago.

Howard claimed that he has dodged Western intelligence services and customs officials while traveling in France, Canada and Mexico. He also said he has traveled widely in Nicaragua, Cuba and Eastern Europe since asking for asylum at a Soviet Embassy -- probably in Budapest -- in June 1986.

"I don't think any secret service can deal with multiple names, multiple passports," Howard said.

Asked why he traveled so extensively despite the risk of capture by the CIA or FBI, Howard said, "For fun." He said his KGB "helpers" in Moscow objected but, he said, "it's my butt."

Howard, 38, denied he was now a Soviet agent, saying his only relation with the KGB is "that they provide for my security."

Howard, who lives with two round-the-clock KGB guards at a huge, brick dacha outside the capital, met with The Washington Post on Saturday for four hours at his house and later at a German restaurant in Moscow's International Hotel. His last published interview appeared more than three years ago after a series of meetings with author David Wise in Budapest.

Howard's claims about traveling in the West could not be independently confirmed. His meetings with the Post were arranged through the KGB's press office, raising the possibility that his allegations were designed to embarrass the CIA. In the past, rival intelligence agencies have used the press to send messages or deceive each other.

When asked today why he decided to talk to a reporter, Howard said he was replying to an item in the Oct. 8 issue of U.S. News & World Report, reported out of Washington, saying that he had been "unhappy" and had committed suicide by slitting his throat. He said the CIA had planted the item as a "deliberate plot to get me to surface."

"They hit me, I hit them. Very simple," Howard said. "I know why they want to hit me. There have been traces of me in the West. They know I've been there. By this article {in U.S. News}, they're saying, 'Come back.' Why? To catch me."

Howard said that he is "waging war with the CIA" but that "I love my country -- America."

Howard joined the CIA in 1981. Two years later, he underwent intensive training for an assignment as an agent in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, but the CIA suddenly forced him to resign after he failed a series of polygraph tests. The agency later said he had a history of alcohol and drug abuse and petty theft.

In his training, Howard was briefed extensively on the inner workings of the CIA station in the U.S. Embassy here, including its methods of recruitment and "running" Soviet agents. The CIA has said that after Howard was forced out, he was enraged and began selling secrets to the KGB, including the identities of key "assets," or contacts, in Moscow who were eventually executed by the Soviets.

Howard settled in Santa Fe, N.M., where he worked as a legislative researcher. He made several trips to Europe during which he allegedly made contact with Soviet agents.

When Soviet intelligence officer Vitaly Yurchenko briefly defected to the West in 1985, he reportedly told the CIA that Howard had been selling invaluable secrets to Moscow. When the FBI tried to investigate Yurchenko's charges, Howard eluded capture and escaped to Mexico in September 1985.

In the interview, Howard said several times that he had no contact with the KGB until he walked into the Soviet Embassy in Budapest in June 1986. He said he had spent nine months on the run in Latin America, Canada and Europe and finally: "I just got run down. I said I needed a place to crash, a place just to put my life together again. . . . I'm very grateful to the {Soviet} government for giving me a safe haven and allowing me to get on with my life without fear of the FBI or the CIA."

Howard's freedom of movement in the East Bloc was curtailed when, during the collapse of communism throughout the region in 1989, Hungary's new rulers ordered him expelled from the country.

Howard said he could not be compared with British defectors such as Kim Philby or George Blake: "Philby and Blake admitted they were communists and were actively involved in active espionage for the Soviet Union. I am not a communist and am not involved in active espionage for the Soviet Union. I'm a political refugee and defector."

Asked if he could now be considered a KGB agent, Howard said, "When I came over they asked me if I wanted rank {a position in the KGB}. I said no. . . . I never want to work for intelligence again. Intelligence messed up my life."

Howard said that if he ever decided to return openly to the United States he was "90 percent sure" he would be acquitted on any espionage charges. He said the CIA tried to pin blame on him "as a very convenient person" after various agents in Moscow were thrown out of the country or Soviet contacts were "burned."

Howard was evasive about what information he gave the KGB after his defection, saying only that he talked to his Soviet handlers about "the mentality of CIA officers" and U.S. surveillance detection methods. "I am not responsible for anybody's death or anybody's arrest," he said.

Howard said he now works as a consultant at an economics institute in Moscow and as an executive at a Soviet bank working on currency trading and the gold market.

After his defection, he said, the KGB provided him with the dacha outside Moscow and a four-room apartment in the city. Howard said that to pass the time he plays chess with his guards, plays video games on his home computer and meets with Soviet friends, "mainly of the Russian yuppie class."

Howard said his wife, Mary, and their 7-year-old son, Lee, visit him in Moscow during summers and Christmas, but they live with Mary Howard's parents in Minnesota.

Asked if he still had a drinking problem, Howard said: "I think my drinking problems came from a lot of stress, especially when I was in the CIA. And there were a lot of adjustment problems here. . . . But now I'm mainly a beer man."