FIRST THERE was the Iranian revolution. Then came reports that Ayatollah Khomeini had part inherited, part created an intelligence agency, known as SAVEMA, capable of serving the revolution abroad. There followed some events in Washington and other cities -- the assassination of an exile, disciplined demonstrations, propaganda activities -- suggesting notable planning and coordination. Now law-enforcement officials report Iranian sources have secretly funneled $5 million to finance pro-Khomeini activities here by Iranians and some black American Moslems. The indications are that Iran may now be conducting a large, well-financed, multifaceted intelligence operation in the United States. (Iran's apparent use of American Embassy facilities in Tehran to process identity and travel documents for its own agents, by the way, gives a bitter twist to its stock depiction of the embassy as a "spy nest.")

For many Americans -- maybe all of us -- outrage will be the immediate response to any suggestion of Iranian-directed spying, "destabilization" and murder. Fine.But outrage can hardly be the only response. It should surprise no one that a regime that illegally holds American hostages and that deals out death promiscuously and with great relish to its foes at home is prepared to export the same revolutionary fanaticism.

The question is how the American emotions should be directed and made reasonable and useful.What should be done? The answer is diligent, effective counter-intelligence and police work within the framework of the law. Our sense of thething is that at various levels the U.S. government has been slow to credit the possibility that the ayatollah may be cranking up something devious and nasty inside the United States. The possibility must now be taken seriously.

The resources of government at several levels have to be concentrated and focused in particular on the thousands of Iranians, including students and businessmen, who are in this country as aliens, and on certain naturalized Americans of Iranian origin, and on any foreign embassies that may be facilitating their criminal acts.

The legal activities of pro-Khomeini activists must not be interfered with, however vexing it is to many Americans to see them taking advantage of freedoms unknown in their homeland to provoke the American people and government. But their illegal activities, whatever they are, must be found out and closed down. It's not just murderers who need to be pursued. Visa offenses, violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act or of foreign exchange laws: these acts are intolerable, the more so if they are being committed at the behest and direction of a hostile foreign regime.