Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner said Friday he removed Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega from the agency payroll in 1977 because he was an "unscrupulous character," but Vice President George Bush later reinstated him.

Adm. Turner said that after Bush took office in 1981, he "met with Noriega and put him back on the payroll" as an intelligence source.A spokesman for Bush said Turner's allegation is "patently false."

Turner made the comments in response to Bush's statements last Sunday during the presidential debate that "seven administrations were dealing with Mr. Noriega," now facing federal indictments charging him with drug smuggling and money laundering.

Turner, who replaced Bush as CIA director in 1977 when Jimmy Carter became president, said in an interview, "We all know that Bush (while CIA director) met with Noriega, even though he was there only 11 months.

"And I will affirm that Bush had him on the (CIA) payroll," Turner said.

"I was there four years, and I never saw fit to see him or have him on the payroll. It just wasn't the case during the Carter administration."

Turner said he decided to sever previously close CIA relations with Noriega in 1977, because "he was an unscrupulous character. He was spying on us. He was not the kind of character we should be relying on."

Turner said he did not tie his decision to any allegations of Noriega's involvement in drug smuggling. Federal law enforcement officials have said they first heard "rumors" of Noriega's drug role in 1979.

In 1976, Noriega was head of Panamanian military intelligence and he was known to be working closely with the Cuban intelligence service while on the CIA's payroll.

"Bush then became vice president and met with Noriega and put him back on the payroll," Turner said.