There, on television, for millions to watch and perhaps believe, was the director of the CIA blackmailing the President of the United States in a behind-closed-door Washington scene.

It's almost enough to make any former intelligence officer suspicious of a conspiracy to discredit American agents by turning them into anti-heroes, or even villains.

At least it seemed there might be a conspiracy theory from the tenor of questions during a panel discussion on "Espionage in Fiction" at the convention of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. The two-day meeting ended yesterday at the Mariott Twin Bridges Motel.

There were charges about a "steady, six-day diatribe" against the CIA, as one member called it, during the TC series. "Washington Behind Closed Doors," and the "beating" that spics take in espionage fiction, and the "character assassination" in romans a clef.

"It leaves intelligence officers, absolutely helpless . . . to answer," complained Douglas S. Blaufarb, the in-house reviewer of spy fiction for the association's quarterly publication, Periscope, where he does try to anser in kind.

Maybe professional spies shouldn't fret too much about their fictional image - and certainly they shouldn't be surprised if they are misunderstood, observed Charles McCarry, a panelist with experience both as a former CIA agent and a writer of serious espionage fiction.

"One loves the CIA when in it and still does," said McCarry. "There is the problem that the policy has been not to discuss operations and explain the nature of the work . . . It's like a marriage in which the husband doesn't speak to his wife after the ceremony. Then, after 30 years, he complains that she doesn't understand him."

But it was obvious that some of the former intelligence officers, who have gone public with a trade association of their own, don't like what they read about spies particularly in what Blaufarb called the "spy novel as trash."

Before they got too paranoid about their fictional treatment, Rod MacLeish, another panelist, reminded them that "as human beings, we all have suffered from trash written about human beings."

MacLeish, who identified himself as an ex-cowboy (he also is a television commentator and has written one spy thriller with another on th way), told the audience they shouldn't be too upset if they don't like the way spies are treated in fiction.

"The cowboy used to wear a white hat and kiss only his horse and now he's a nose-picking alcoholic. But he still is needed to herd the cattle," MacLeish said.

One problem for the writer of serious espionage fiction, McCarry said, is that the business of spying is so inaccessible that it is "almost impossible to get the texture, taste, feel, smell, the anxiety . . . sitting around waiting in a hotel room at 10 after 3 o'clock for a call from people who don't know how to use a phone."

MacLeish told how he had trouble even finding out the color of the walls at the CIA headquarters in Langley. It took intervention from a senior officer to get a tour so that he could write about the offices and memo - routing in his new spy thriller, MacLeish said.

As for the popularity of spy fiction in recent years, McCarry said he didn't know what people seek or find in espionage fiction now any more than he knows what they seek and find in the plays of Shakespeare. But he does find in the serious attempts an "explication of the political sub-conscious of our nation" at a time when manypeople think truths are being hidden from them.