The sudden collapse of the Naval Investigative Service's espionage cases against some of the Marine guards at the Moscow embassy shocked many Americans. But it came as no great surprise to Rep. Jim Bates (D-Calif.).

The San Diego lawmaker, who was a Marine corporal, has been saying for years that the investigative service is one of the most incompetent, undisciplined and abusive organizations in the U.S. military. Bates thinks the investigative service should be eliminated, and he introduced legislation to this effect last year. He and his staff argue that:Naval Investigative Service (NIS) agents abuse their authority by using unethical interrogation techniques and extracting confessions by intimidation, lies and trickery.The Navy detectives rarely tape-record interrogations, relying instead on their recollections as evidence against the accused.Finally, Bates charged, NIS agents are heavily influenced by their uniformed superiors, who sometimes use them to retaliate against troublesome subordinates or to derail investigations that might implicate Navy brass.

The Moscow Marines investigation wasn't the Navy detectives' first foulup. Bates wants a House investigation into the case of Tim Reid, a civilian electrical engineer who blew the whistle on a wasteful program four years ago and became a target of the NIS flatfoots. Our reporter Daniel Kaufman has elicited Reid's story from interviews and Navy documents.

In July 1983, Reid discovered at least $200 million in unnecessary costs in the overhaul of Sea Nymph class nuclear submarines at San Diego. He reported this to his superiors, but instead of winning a commendation, he was subjected to what he calls "a number of reprisals" by the Navy brass.

Reid was stripped of his security clearance and bounced from job to job five times. His travel expenses were questioned by Pentagon lawyers.

Reid got the clear impression that the Navy was out to get him. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, he found support for his suspicions in a memorandum written by a Navy investigative official. Referring to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Bates, the memo stated: "We don't want them to perceive that Mr. Reid is a trustworthy individual."

The alleged reprisals against Reid included two NIS investigations in the last 10 months. The first occurred while Reid was vacationing in Europe in September. As he learned later, NIS agents tried to determine whether he had made plans to visit Syria or the Soviet Union. After questioning Reid's friends and family, and checking his passport, the Navy dropped that inquiry.

Then, last December, while Reid was working in Hawaii, his boss in San Diego allegedly found a "murder threat" on his desk consisting of a hostile note, a broken Darth Vader cup and an ace of spades. Reid found himself being accused of sending the threat before that investigation also was dropped.

Footnote: A Navy spokesman denied any improprieties by the investigators, and said Reid's idea that he had suffered reprisals because he blew the whistle on waste was "purely speculation."