THE PASSION for secrecy is still legendary, the parade of supplicants as impressive as it is endless. If power in this capital city is to be measured by access and by knowledge, Henry Kissinger still welds both with the instinctive touch of a master.

At 8 a.m. on this raw November morning, the familiar blue Mercedes tunnels out of the mist and glides to a halt before the House of Representatives. A private bodyguard gets out and opens a door, then Henry Kissinger emerges into the grey dampness, breath frosting, hands in the pockets of his dark coat. A second guard has driven him here along one of four possible routes chosen for security reasons.

For the former Secretary of Stste, now 54, today will be typical in the respect that it will be unlike any other, beginning as usual with a working breakfast, in this case at the invitation of Representatives Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) for the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Mideast. "It's the first in three years I've been on the committee that we've had a member of the private community to a breakfast." says Representative Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.).

Kissinger is in full form this morning. The ready wit, deft fielding of questions, elegant and eloquent command English all add power to his presence. After the eggs are downed, the sausages, the orange juice, the subcommittee begins shooting questions at Kissinger. Most concern the Mideast, Cyprus and Rhodesia are briefly discussed. Kissinger seems generally pleased by Sadat's visit to Israel and says the trip may have been prompted by Egyptian fear of Soviet sabotage at the Geneva peace conference.

The talk is spotted with ancedotes, one of which explains a reason Kissinger feels Sadat genuinely desires peace. When Kissinger was in Egypt during his tenure as Secretary of State, he says, he used to take his meals at Sadat's home. The entire Egyptian first family kept stressing how much the wanted peace. "You can't program a family to say things like that," Kissinger says.

Another anecdote is used to illustrate differences between Syrian and Egyptian attitudes towards Israel. Arriving in Damascus one day, Kissinger noticed newspaper stories indicating he had just come from occupied territory. Occupied territory meant Tel Aviv.

Kissinger's appearances on the Hill are not always this informal. On another occasion the scene might be the Senate Caucus room, TV lights ablaze, members of the Foreign Relations Committee leaning forward under the glittering chandeliers, concentrating on the rolling German accent as Kissinger describles his feelings on the proposed Panama Canal Treaty. President Carter has asked him to back the treaty. White House and State Department officials consult him regularly, say spokesmen. "They're scared to death of him," says one Washington columnist, a Kissinger friend. "I've never seen anything like it. It's hilarious."

Says Representative Donald J. Pease (D-Ohio) "He could be a very powerful man in a negative way if he chose to speak out publicly."

Today, however, Kissinger is in Carter's corner. Failure to ratify the treaty will lead to a deterioration of U.S.-Latin American relations, he says, and will provide a rallying point for anti-American forces. A warning, perhaps from experience. "I don't think the public necessarily forgives leaders for consequences even if the consequences were what they thought they wanted at the time."

"I'm going to New York to have lunch with Dayan," Kissinger says one day as we board an elevator at the Library of Congress. He's on his way to a third-floor office where he works on his memoirs, unable to take his own documents from the building. He looks at me to make sure I got the point. "Moishe Dayan," he says.

"Why?"

The Kissinger smile. "To see if I can be the next foreign minister of Israel."

However, a few minutes later in his office he leaves his desk, goes to a door and calls to his staff. "Have we heard from the Egyptians yet?"

They haven't. Kissinger returns to his seat. I ask if he is still active in peace negotiations.

"No."

Still, when it comes to diplomacy, Kissinger has never exactly been known as Mr. Candor. Next day I call lots of Kissinger's friends and associates to ask why the former Secretary of State is still involved in negotiations. Nobody knows anything. Nobody seems surprised at the question either. Eventually I ask a staff member the same question.

Long pause. "Uh . . . in what way have you been led to believe he's still active?"

"Oh you know. Carrying messages back and forth. As an intermediary. What I want to know is why he's still doing it?"

Another pause. "That would be a good question to ask Dr. Kissinger."

Cut to several weeks later outside Kissinger's K Street office. He's strolling to the World Bank for a lunch with Robert McNamara. I ask him if President Sadat consulted him or informed him of plans before visiting Israel.

"He didn't consult me."

"Did you speak with him?"

"Yes."

"Did he inform you of his plans?"

Kissinger doesn't want to talk about it. I remind him of the occasion in his office when he told me he was having lunch with Dayan, then asked his staff if the Egyptians had contacted them. The inference is that he still has some kind of role in the Mideast. What kind of role is it?

"I have no official role."

"How about an unofficial role?"

"I have no unofficial role."

"Sometimes I think we could drive through the front window of Macy's and he wouldn't know it for five minutes," says bodyguard Walter Bothe.

The drive through Washington traffic toward his K Street office is for Kissinger one of the more peaceful times of the day. "There's no phone. He can sit and read, a thousand miles away," says Bothe.

Associates are awed by Kissinger's reading capacity. He digests biographies, history, sports, Time, Newsweek, thrillers, Washington and European papers, "goes to sleep reading and wakes up reading," says Bothe. "If he's wake he's working, and he's always awake."

Anyway, Kissinger hits the office at a run, checks his mail before the first visitor arrives. "Hello, Excellency," says General Brent Scowcroft, who followed Kissinger as pressidential assistant for national security affairs. The next appointment will be with Seymour Weiss, whom Kissinger bounced as the State Department's director of politico-military affairs, tossing him the consolation prize of the ambassadorship to the Bahamas. Scowcroft and Kissinger will discuss the Mideast and Rhodesia. Weiss will talk about nuclear arms. The office is long, sunny, comfortable. Kissinger rarely sits behind the desk, preferring to meet visitors on the sofa. Ferns sit in a corner. Photographs adorn the room . . . Sadat, Brezhnev, Chou En-Lai, a caricature, Nancy and the dog, Ford.

Outside, the phones often go wild. "Bill Rogers on three," the secretaries call. "David Rockefeller [WORD ILLEGIBLE] one." "Yugolavian [WORD ILLEGIBLE] three." "Marvin Kalb on [WORD ILLEGIBLE]

If Kissinger has many people [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to talk to him, it's because it involved in any number of projects [WORD ILLEGIBLE] memoirs, due to be published in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and sold for a reported $2 million (U.S. and Canadian rights only), occupy most afternoons. NBC has hired him as a "special consultant for world affairs," a position which involves TV interview appearances from time to time and aiding in one major news/documentary a year. This year's show will be aired on January 13 and will deal with Eurocommunism. David Brinkley will be host, Kissinger a consultant. Brinkley says Kissinger helped arrange interviews with officials including West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt for the special.

In addition, Kissinger delivers speechs, acts as consultant for the Aspen Institute's New York office and for the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and teaches a seminar at Georgetown University.

"We honestly don't view Kissinger as a foreign policy expert. We simply see him as a war criminal," says Gay Seidman, editor of the Harvard Crimson, who recently picketed a Kissinger speech in Boston to 200 Nieman Fellows. Inside, amid a sea of respectful or even fawning questions someone asked Kissinger how he could "face his children." Kissinger's son sat nearby.

Kissinger claims that demonstrators like those at the Nieman speech don't anger him. Vietnam is a "painful" memory, "not made any easier by people who had not the slightest responsibility or strategy, just pretended that there was one group that had a monopoly on concern for human life. But that's in the past now . . ." Later he says calmly, as an afterthought, "I did more to end the war than any of them did. And there's a lot of support for the policy we pursued"

He's reluctant to reminisce, saving that for the memoirs. To those who have critized his famous ego, he says, "It was my obligation to conduct foreign policy in a period in which executive authority was under assault, and I had to act with confidence and assurance. I have strong views on the subject. I think it is the role of people in leadership positions to inspire those who work with them, to make them do things they didn't know they could do and for this you have to have a strong personality."

Although Kissinger has been known to say he'd like to be remembered for having started a sequence of events that others carried on, he's reluctant to criticize the Carter administration even when new policies seem to be the opposite of his own. "When a performer is taking careful and complicated steps on a high wire," he said in a recent speech, "it is profoundly inappropriate, not to say dangerous, for a spectator in a seat far below to shout at him that he is putting his toe in the wrong place."

And so, even when he addresses himself to specific Carter policies he soft-pedals his opinions. In a speech made this June, for instance, the former Secretary of Sate warned that ambiguous declarations of U.S. attitudes toward Eurocommunism can create the impression that the U.S. "considers Communist success a foregone conclusion." The speech was reported as one in which Kissinger was trying to shake the administration out of its hand-off policy towards Communists' winning power in Western Europe. Today, asked about differences between himself and Carter he says there really isn't that much of a difference at all. "The real difference is tactical. The question is whether the strategy is different. You can't tell that after only seven months."

If Norman Lear was going to create a half-hour weekly comedy show about Henry Kissinger, he might call it "I've Got a Secret." Asked about a lunch with Robert McNamara he says, "We're old friends." Pat Buchanan? Brent Scowcroft? Old friends. Old friends don't want to be quoted. Kissinger likes to snack on mile and an apple at night, one says, then wants it used only as "background information."

Here's a story. "One of Dr. Kissinger's ex-students from Japan is coming to visit," a secretary says one day.

"Why?"

"To talk about Japanese affairs."

Japanese affairs, uh? Twenty minutes later Japanese businessmen enter the office and sit in the waiting area. The first is older, calmer, more expansive. His young companion is nervous, glancing at his watch. "What time is your appointment," he says, leaning forward.

"Don't worry about it," I answer. "Why are you meeting Dr. Kissinger?"

"I can't tell you. It's a SECRET." Pride overcomes prudence and he starts to swell. "Just to show you how important it is, yesterday we were in New York and today Washington." He goes into more travel arrangements. Tokyo comes into this somewhere. On a hunch I say, "You're negotiating the Japanese rights to the memoirs."

He jerks up, speaks rapidly to his companion in Japanese. "DON'T WRITE ABOUT IT."

The diplomat seeks progress through manipulating reality, the educator through illuminating it. Ringed by sixty students at a Georgetown Unversity lecture, Kissinger talks about major problems he believes will surface and face industrial democracies in the next fifiteen years. Private and university security men watch the door outside. This is Kissinger's last working appointment of the day.

Poking the table to make points, Kissinger discusses nuclear parity between the United States and Soviet Union. Until very recently, he says, the U.S. enjoyed a nuclear superiority over the Soviets go great that during the Cuban missile crisis the U.S. could have completely destroyed the Soviets and suffered relatively insignificant retaliation.

But now the situation has changed. Nuclear parity has been achieved. Kissinger explains that he cannot imagine the Soviet Union to be the first nation in history to achieve a decisive local arms superiority (in Europe) and not try to use it for political advantage.

His fears are compounded by the fact that the Europeans have become consumer-oriented, he says. What would actually happen if the Soviets attacked Europe and a general mobilization were sounded? Would the population report for action or get into their Peugeots and head for Switzerland? Kissinger doesn't know.

He dars a comparison Russia as ancient Rome and the industrial democracies as Carthage, a city which enjoyed a better standard of livint until Rome conquered it. The Romans were dull, unartistic, good at only accumulating power. Kissinger poses a question. What will happen in fifteen years if one side keeps accumulating power and the other a standard of living? The question goes unanswered.

Still later, the man who brought us detente criticizes the extension of over $40 billion in credit to Russia by the industrial democracies without the achievement of any political gain. He skims over unemployment rates, predicts industrialization in the Third World will damage European economies and produce a revolution in politics on that continent, speaks of the dullness and ineptitude which he thinks characterize Communist governments and explains a reason he opposes Eurocommunism. Problems are going to be hard enough to solve as it is without having the nations trying to solve them operating on opposing philosophies. Quite a lot to cover in forty minutes.

Any questions?

Tonight the social Henry Kissinger will attend a party at the British Embassy, a "secure area," say the guards who accompany him everywhere, preceding him to buildin lobbies, making extra security arrangements when he flies by commercial airline, hiring free lance agents to supplement the force in other cities.

The guards will wait with other bodyguards at the museum-like embassy while Kissinger moves among the guests with the easy, endearing smile and the stream of jokes. "He can shut the charm on and off in the same breath," says a staff member. He's more reflective and more relaxed than he used to be, having dropped thirty pounds - Kissinger's fluctuating waistline used to be associated with tension, negotiation and chocolate cake. "When he was Secretary of State he didn't like to go home at night," says one friend who as usual didn't want to be named. "He'd be nervous, so he'd stay up and talk about policies. It made him feel better. People didn't want to leave before the Secretary, so they would have to wait. It was kind of funny. Now Henry Kissinger is a good boy. He goes home early like everybody else."

His taste in leisure is diverse; Victor Borge at the Kennedy Center one night, a ballet, a Chinese dinner downtown with Nancy and friends, a college football game on TV, "A Bridge Too Far" at the movies, an AFI awards ceremony, telling anecdotes about Golda Meir to acquaintances and saving the punchline for the memoirs. He taks long walks at night and likes to swim sometimes. When he wants to get away and relax, he spends time at the Westchester, New York, home of good friend Nelson Rockefeller or in his own Manhattan apartment. "I have more time for the family now," he says, and claims as do his friends that he has not suffered through the severe decompression period generally associated with the leaving of a high public office.

But then again, while Henry Kissinger isn't exactly in office any more, he isn't out of power either. "People act exactly the same when he shows up in public," says Walter Bothe. "They cluster around, oooh and aaah, ask for autographs." Kissinger reacts with the normal man's mixture of embarrassment and conceit. The consultation calls come regularly from foundations, institutes, the government, and the famous ego appears intact despite the absence of the huge staff, the banner headlines and the summit meetings. "People who weild great power and responsibility don't like to stop doing so," says one longtime friend and Washington columnist. "But Kissinger weathered it better than most. He's a very tough fellow."

For Henry Kissinger, the job of statesman continues even in his unofficial life. Use of mass media is essential if one wants to have public support for a foreign policy or public support of issues, he has said. Today, in his role as NBC consultant, educator and writer he is still able to present his vision of world order to a curious public. For America's scholar statesman, whose lifelong avocation, hobby, love has been foreign policy, much of his perceived strength is based on his perceived knowledge. And knowledge doesn't go away when you leave office. Said one critic recently: "Even if you can't stand him, you respect what he has to say."