"THE BROTHERHOOD" is a fraternity of the political right and outcasts from the intelligence-defense establishment, seeking to save the U.S. government from a Soviet network of "moles," agents and dupes they perceive as sapping the fiber of American security and threatening to hand the world to the Kremlin on the silver platter of detente. As this episode will reveal, it can organize a cabal blending fact and fiction to depict a high American official as a traitor in a spy thriller, plant the same idea in a newspaper article, then manipulate its allies on Capitol Hill to make the plot come alive in real life.

The Brotherhood uses the covert weapons of its craft -- information and disinformation, whispered secrets and published sensations. One of its psychological missiles was recently MIRVed to strike successively at two priority targets: Henry Kissinger, once described by ex-CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton as "objectively a Soviet agent," and David L. Aaron, once Kissinger's arms control expert, now the Mondale-sponsored deputy to Zbigniew Brzezinski in the National Security Council.

The "missile" was a piece of microfilm (now missing) that was furnished to the CIA in April 1977 by one of its prize agents, a cable clerk in the Soviet Foreign Ministry in Moscow, code-named "Trigon." It purported to be the copy of a cable from Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin reporting on a conversation with recently retired secretary of state Henry Kissinger on the morning of April 11.

Kissinger was represented as ridiculing Carter administration proposals for a new approach to the SALT II negotiations aimed at concrete reductions in existing levels of nuclear weapons.

According to the "Dobrynin Telegram," Kissinger called President Carter a prisoner of his own "human rights illusions" and Brzezinski "an ideological dogmatist." He said that he had not been consulted on the new proposals and would have opposed them, knowing better than anyone else what the Russians could accept.

What most surprised Carter aides was that Kissinger was represented as advising that the new administration would not hold out for "equal aggregates" of strategic weapons, which he himself had helped to negotiate. The authenticity of the dispatch was a subject of hot dispute among the few officials privy to it. It was, in any event, the last contribution of "Trigon," believed to have been spotted as an American spy in the summer of 1977 and eliminated.

"Trigon" and the "Dobrynin Telegram" were closely guarded secrets, unknown even in the State Department, until leaked from inside the CIA in 1978 as part of a subterranean struggle over SALT and detente. Its contents were shared with Richard Perle, staff assistant to anti-SALT senator Henry M. Jackson, by a CIA arms control analyst, David S. Sullivan. The brilliant but impulsive Sullivan, unable to persuade his agency to support his view that the Russians were cheating on the SALT I treaty limits, also gave Perle a copy of his secret report based on the monitoring of Soviet weapons tests.

To authenticate the "Dobrynin Telegram," Sullivan -- so he told Perle -- asked the National Security Agency whether it was consistent with monitored traffic from the Soviet Embassy, and was told that a coded message of approximately that length had been sent on that date. Sullivan was going dangerously far in his dissent.

Dismissed in mid-1979 by CIA director Stansfield Turner, Sullivan joined the fraternity of embittered outsiders -- along with Angleton, ex-director Richard Helms and young ideologues like Sven Kraemer, a former NSC staffer who is the son of Fritz Kraemer, Kissinger's postwar mentor. United in viewing the "insiders" as oblivious to the national interest and the Soviet menace, they gravitated toward the Reagan camp, making contact with advisers like Richard V. Allen and John Lehman. Sullivan joined the staff of the right-wing New Hampshire senator, Gordon Humphrey.

This set the stage for the launching of the Trigon missile, which I first heard about in Detroit early in July, a few days before the opening of the Republican convention. Sen. Jesse Helms was leading a campaign to bar Kissinger from addressing the convention, branding him as a symbol of all things perniciously un-Reaganesque -- detente with the Russians, friendship with Peking and a self-crippling SALT treaty. The senator's aide, John Carbaugh, told reporters that Kissinger was about to be exposed as having served Soviet interests.

Sure enough, the following Monday morning, July 14, as the convention opened, Newsweek broke the sensational story of the CIA's "topgraded spy" who had given the CIA long-suppressed dope on Kissinger's meeting with Dobrynin. Newsweek correspondent David C. Martin was frank to say it had come from enemies of Kissinger. Jack Anderson followed with a column on the same subject. Some reporters were told they could get more details from David Sullivan, who was circulating a memo on the subject.

Kissinger reacted as if he had been stabbed in the back. "How can anyone serve the government if subjected to such character assassination?" he asked me. Kissinger confirmed that he had met with Dobrynin on the date mentioned, but denied saying any of the things quoted in the purported telegram. He was vague about what he did discuss with Dobrynin. He described it as a "not very important conversation." "What would have been the point of going over Secretary Vance's proposals in Moscow, which had already been rejected a month before?" asked Kissinger. "In any event, it would have been crazy for me to talk in such terms in the Soviet Embassy, of all places" (presumably because the embassy is bugged).

The attack on Aaron was more richly and subtly textured. Aaron was not only a former Kissinger adviser on SALT and Sen. Walter Mondale's staff assistant in the Church Committee's investigation of the CIA and FBI. He was perceived by Reagan supporters as a key figure in a series of politically inspired Carter administration leaks of national security secrets: the nuclear targeting plan, the Stealth bomber and an arrangement with Peking for cooperation in monitoring Soviet communications. A cloud of suspicion cast over him would spread over the whole Carter administration.

Under Sen. Humphrey's signature, David Sullivan drafted a letter to his own former boss, Adm. Turner, asking for an investigation of how a valuable intelligence asset like Trigon had been lost. (Humphrey told me he had signed the letter, unaware of Sullivan's own involvement in the affair, and summarily fired his aide when he belatedly learned of it.) The letter called attention to an article in the London Daily Telegraph which had gone generally unnoticed in this country.

The same article was cited in another letter asking an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, signed by two of its members, Republican Malcolm Wallop and Democrat Daniel Moynihan, a national security pillar. This letter originated in Wallop's office. Wallop's staff aide on the Intelligence Committee, Angelo Codevilla, had been in contact with Sullivan in drafting the letter. The obscure Telegraph article was 15 months old. Bemoaning the low state of security, it reported:

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently interviewed a senior official of the National Security Council over the leakage to Soviet bloc intelligence agents of a top-secret document classified 'Blueline,' one of the highest security categories, relating to intercepts of coded Soviet communications. American intelligence sources maintain that, as a result of this leakage, an American agent abroad lost his life."

Further details of the long-overlooked sensation were made available by Senate staffers. The NSC official in question had reportedly said something to a Romanian at a diplomatic reception that pointed to the identity of Trigon, possibly compromising him.

Who was the official who, in the words of the Wallop-Moynihan letter, may have contributed to "a major intelligence failure"? The FBI said it had not interviewed any NSC official in any such connection. The CIA reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that it had no reason to believe any American official had been involved in the loss of Trigon.

Yet Sens. Wallop and Moynihan demanded closed hearings. "If an agent was betrayed," said Moynihan, "it is despicable and very possibly criminal." But neither he nor Wallop nor their staffers would say whom they had in mind -- not on the record.

But the Brotherhood had provided a trail for anyone interested. The author of the Daily Telegraph article was Robert Moss, a British right-wing journalist who once worked for a CIA-sponsored London news syndicate, Forum World Features. He is also author of a book, "Chile's Marxist Experiment." The CIA has refused to confirm or deny that the book was part of the covert operation against the Allende regime. More recently, Moss was co-author, with Arnaud de Borchgrave (lately resigned from Newsweek) of a best-selling spy thriller, "The Spike," which represents the manifesto of the security Brotherhood, certified on its jacket by Richard Helms as presenting "the challenge posed to America and the Free World: Can the Soviets destroy the West without firing a shot?"

The villain of the novel, a KGB "principal agent" who has conspired to blind America to the Soviet challenge, is revealed as Perry Cummings, deputy director of the NSC and protege of the vice president, himself an "unconscious" agent. Cummings dies -- at his own or the KGB's hand -- and the vice president resigns. A former CIA officer fired for leaking secret material on Soviet violations of SALT agreements is installed as the new director of the CIA.

Get it?

The novel soon to become a "major motion picture," served the cause well, and vice versa. The hapless David Aaron, who said he had never done anything to compromise an agent, was left to contend with phantoms. He appealed to one news organization after another to withhold his name, until the New York Times, despite Aaron's appeal through James Reston, which served to delay publication for two days, finally identified him as the target of the operation.

Aaron then commented publicly for the first time, calling the rumors "unfounded" and "malicious." It was a classic piece of covert action, and it left the desired taint of suspicion. David Aaron did nothing. In fact, he was never accused of doing anything.