President-elect Jimmy Carter will inherit an intense dispute over U.S. intelligence estimates of the soviet Union's global strategy.

The new estimate of long-range Soviet military intentions is accompanied by exceptional controversy. It goes beyond the usual debate over assessing secret evidence gathered by satellite, submarine, radio listening posts, and other methods for gauging the accuracy and production rates of Soviet weaponry.

For the first time in 26 years, a special panel was commissioned to challenge the judgment of the official government analysts. The special group argued that the traditional estimators for years have been seriously miscalculating the basic intentions of the Kremlin, and understating the threat to the United States.

The result is a new, sterner National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviet Union. Supporters of the adversary process claim it is a "more realistic" projection of the Soviet threat over the next 10 years. Critics charge that it is a flawed product, with its objectivity impaired by "outside pressure."

This top secret report, usually completed by December to reinforce the defense budget, awaits formal approval this week by the National Foreign Intelligence Board.

The validity of the new estimate is defended by George Bush, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and also government-wide director of central intelligence. In the latter role, Bush and Richard Pipes, professor of Russian history at Harvard University, jointly agreed on 10 specialists, including Pipes, who could add a new dimension to the annual, most critical National Intelligence Estimate by joining in sifting through the secret data.

Team A, which produced the official report, was headed by Howard Stoertz, CIA national intelligence officer on the U.S. Soviet strategic balance. The CIA declined to list the members of the team. The official intelligence estimates are negotiated inside the intelligence community, which is comprised of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Army, Navy, Air Force, the State Department's Treasury, Energy Research and Development Administration, and the FBI.

Team B, led by Pipes, former director of Harvard's Russian Research Center, worked on the intelligence estimates for about three months, starting in August. It included the following:

Daniel O. Graham, retired Army lieutenant general, who directed the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency until last january; Thomas Wolfe, RAND Corp. expert on Soviet military affairs, and retired Air Force colonel; John W. Vogt, Jr., retired Air Force general who commanded the Seventh Air Force in Vietnam and U.S. air forces in Europe; Paul H. Nitze, former deputy secretary of defense, a specialist on the U.S.-Soviet nuclear strategic arms limitation talks who helped form the new Committee on the Present Danger.

Also, William R. Van Cleave, professor of international relations, University of Southern California, who has served on the U.S. SALT delegation, and Foy D. Kohler, former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, 1962-66, and now a professor at the University of Miami's Center for Advanced International Studies, with which Graham is also associated.

Team B also included the following officials still on active government duty:

Air Force Brig. Gen. Jasper A. Welch, Jr., assistant chief of staff, studies and analysis, who has helped develop U.S. positions in the SALT talks; Seymour Weiss, who served as director of the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs and was recently ambassador to the Bahamas and Paul D. Wolfowitz, deputy assistant director for planning in the verification and analysis bureau of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Among those who are pleased with the outcome of the Team A-Team B competition, the debate is variously described as "bloody, but healthy," or "constructive" and "long overdue." Critics call it a "bludgeoning" exercise, which further demoralized analysts in the battered CIA.

It was only last week that senior officials at the White House and the State Department began to study the final draft of the new NIE, and also a panel. The latter is described as a more pessimistic estimate of Soviet intentions and a strong criticism of the present method of evaluating intelligence.

There is speculation that Bush's successor in the Carter administration, Theodore C. Sorensen, will now see the dispute as added reason for overhauling the intelligence evaluation structure.

Even if the Carter administration disagrees with the new NIE on Soviet strategy, however, it cannot be readily rewritten. It will appear in two to three volumes that serve as a reference for policy makers across the top echelon of the government, although they are not bound by it.

The State Department reiterated that in response to questions last week. I said NIEs "represent the collective judgement of the agencies making up the intelligence community of important development abroad, such as Soviet strategic forces and objectives." But they "never contain recommendations for U.S. policy alternatives" and "would not in themselves necessarily lead to selection of a particular policy option."

Sources on both sides of the dispute agree that the new, official NIE will record that the Soviet Union appears to be driving more than ever toward military superiority, beyond equality or parity with the United States. These terms are themselves imprecise and disputed, however.

This would be the trend of the U.S. intelligence estimate in any event, officials say. During the past year, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger helped to raise the alarm about Soviet intentions, although he champions U.S. Soviet detente and nuclear strategic arms control talks.

Some of Kissinger's associates maintain, therefore, that they see nothing "surprisingly new" or "even unexpected" in he new official estimate.

But the challenge that was mounted in the drafting process cam from critics inside and outside the government who saw Kissinger and his policies as a prime target. As a result, many insider and outsiders agree, the adversary system used in making the new intelligence estimate clearly stiffened the official projection of Soviet intentions.

As a consequence, the new NIE, plus the Pipes report, plus the encouragement given to pessimists or "worst case" theorists on Soviet intentions inside the government, is regarded as a higher barrier for the Carter administration to overcome to carry out its own broader objectives for U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms control.

Carter, when questioned last week about reports that the new intelligence estimate will register rising concern about Soviet military power, responded, "we're still by far stronger than they are in most means of measuring military strength."

The idea for an adversary team on intelligence orginated with the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, headed by Leo Cherne, New York economist and research specialist.

Pipes, when asked last week why his team was so "one-sided", said:

"There is no point in another, what you might call, optimistic view. In general there has been a disposition in Washington to underestimate the Soviet drive. The moderately optimistic line has prevailed . . . We have imposed very severe limitations on ourselves. The hope had been that all these steps would lead the Russians to slot downm They haven't.'

The opposing schools of U.S. thought on Soviet policy, Pipes said, might better be described as "optimists" and "pessimists," rather than doves vs. hawks, hard-liners vs. soft liners, "hard-nosed vs. soft-nosed." He said "one gets caught in primitive labels - cold warriors." He preferred "pessimists."

He said of his panel, "I don't think the team is distinguished by being 'hard line.' They know about weapons, they all know about politics. They view Soviet policy in Clausewitzian terms - which is the way the Soviets look at it."

He was referring to the famous dictum of Prussian general karl Von Clausewitz that war is "a continuation of political relations . . . by other means," sanctifying war as a continuation of diplomacy.

This, in reality, was the driving factor in the Team A-Team B debate, more than controversy on specific questions of Soviet nuclear missile accuracy, air defenses, or other weaponry issues.

The Pipes panelists, and fellow-pessimists, contend that U.S. policy has been based on the erroneous belief that the Soviet Union shares the official American view that nuclear war is "unthinkable."

On the contrary, they maintain, real Soviet policy, as distinct from declared policy, rules out no form of military might.

Soviet strategy is based on preparing and winning a "limited nuclear war," many of these pessimists maintain. Others pessimists contend that the Soviet Union, instead, seeks to reserve that potentiality not to actually fight such a war, but to use the weight of military power to achieve political and economic gains.

This debate partially surfaced in this country during the Nixon-Ford administrations, with James R. Schlesnger, then Defense Secretary, advocating a U.S. strategy and resources to fight nuclear war at less than an all-out level, to counter Soviet capabilities.

President-elect Carter and his Defense Secretary-designate, Harold Brown, both have said they reject the premise that a limited nuclear war can be fought without escalating into all-out nuclear warfare.

It does not appear that President Ford, national security affairs adviser Gen. Brent Scowcroft, or deputy national security affairs adviser William G. Hyland anticipated the scope of the underlying challenge that would emerge in what was planned as an experiment "in methodology" on intelligence estimating.

One source said that what was authorized was "an experimental process for sharpening debate and issues" through use of outside panelists, who managed to expand the original concept considerably. This source said "this whole thing was run by the intelligence community," and that the White House> and Kissinger did not try to keep abreast of it.

Although the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board initiated the adversary team plan, Cherne said, the panel was "responsive to the DCI [Bush]."

Members were not selected "to load a point of view," Cherne said, but "by definition, if you were seeking an alternate judgment you would have people probably with an alternate point of view."

Cherne said it is nonsense to believe the project was launched to have any effect on a new administration, because there was no expectation among the proponents that there would be "a new administration." Cherne said "it had been thought that the whole process would be completed by mid-February," when the advisory board could review and compare the official NIE and the Pipes report. Now, he said, "it does not look as though this may be complete within this administration."

"One thing which does discourage me about the process itself," Cherne said, "is the apparent ease with which this has slipped into the press."

The first news report, in the Boston Globe last month, described the exercise as a crushing victory for the Pipes panel over the CIA's intelligence estimators.

One source on the Pipes panel said last week that "we just licked them on a great number of points."

Pipes commented, "If we made any impact on them it was by force of argument." He said the process showed the value of bringing in outside experts to question "a certain line . . . that becomes perpetuated by being institutionalized . . . To my mind we vindicated ourselves. It transcends politics."

One CIA official said, "It is not correct to draw the conclusion that the general thrust of the estimate has been thrust upon it by the outsiders." He added, "When all the chips are down, I don't think that the analysts feel that they were routed."

But numerous sources on all sides agree that the "peer pressures" on the insiders, confronted by the prestigious names and reputations of the outside challengers, were great.

Graham was reported to have said to the CIA analysts at one stage that "I don't want to tell you guys you're going to lose your jobs if you don't get on board, but that's the way it is."

Graham said last week, "Oh my God, I never said anything like that in my life; that's absolute not, that's absolutely shabby; that's absurd."

He said, "I think it was a very healthy exercise." Graham said he had "heard the inside group claim that it [Team B] had no impact; I think it had quite an impact."

In past estimates the Soviet strategy, Graham said, "I think the largest factor that caused us to err was putting U.S. concepts into Soviet Russians heads."

Contrary to official U.S. views, Graham said, "The evidence indicates that they are seeking a war-fighting capacility."

Graham said that in the current U.S. appraisal of Soviet intentions, there have been "two catalytic factors . . . quite aside from our own [Team B] effort."

One, he said, was the CIA estimate, made public in October, recalculating Soviet spending on defense at 11 to 13 per cent of the Soviet gross national product instead of 6 to 8 per cent as previously estimated.

The other major force in changing the official U.S. perception, Graham said, has been "the discovery of a very important (Soviet) civil defense effort - very strong and unmistakeable evidence that a big effort is on to protect people, industry and to store food."

Incoming Defense Secretary Brown already has expressed skepticism about the Pentagon reports of a massive Soviet civil defense effort, and he also has minimized its significance if it is taking place.

Brown, who has been a participant in the SALT talks from the outset, said it is illusory for any nation to believe that it "can survive a strategic thermonuclear was a going society . . ."

One prominent member of the public arms control community, Herbert (Pete) Scoville, Jr., a former CIA deputy director for science and technology said:

"I think this whole thing was clearly an attempt to leave a legacy for the new administration - or for the Ford administration if it continued - which would be very hard to reverse . . . I think it is going to make life very difficult for the new administration."

Scoville, a senior official of the Federation of American Scientists and of the Arms Control Association, said the use of an outside panel who "were all on one side" was dedicated to prove that the Russians are 20 feet tall and their interest is all wrong."

"Now the integrity of the [intelligence estimating] process has been questioned," he said. "It is extremely difficult for them [the insiders] to stand up to the pressure of a based point of view when the people at the top want to prove something."

From a different viewpoint, Ray S. Cline, a former deputy director of the CIA, was even more critical of the adversary experiment.

Cline is a leading skeptic about Soviet intentions, and a longtime critic of Kissinger. He is now director of studies at Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But he deplored the experiment. It means, Cline said, that the process of making national security estimates "has been subverted," by employing "a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view."