Philip Agee, the "former CIA agent," has again crept into the news. Late last months this cryptic figure emerged from one of his vaporous foreign haunts to hold a press conference in Bonn. There Agee divulged that certain documents now being used by our State Department to sully the good name of El Salvador's rebels are, in very truth, forgeries. They were, Agee believes, confected in the hellish laboratories of Central Intelligence Agency. Actually, the rebels are not such bad guys after all.

This press conference was well timed, coming as it did just as an American diplomatic mission prowled through Europe insinuating that the rebels are being succored by communists: some Cuban, some Russian, some from countries more recently converted to the Marxist-Leninist beatitudes. The American mission is no low-key affair. It is led by Lawrence Eagleburger, Secretary of State Haig's designated assistant secretary for Europe, a man so single-minded that he has named all three of his sons Lawrence. This astounding fact was not revealed by Agee, but there was very little else that he left unsaid. For 90 minutes he held reporters in the grip of his hand, revealing dastardly deeds now being perpetrated by Amercian agents in such progressive lands as Iran and Nicaragua.

Agee "retired" from the CIA over a decade ago, and has since been wowing crowds with hot stuff on CIA skulduggery. He has revealed the names of CIA agents abroad in the magazine Counterspy. He has lectured in foreign lands -- for instance, Cuba; and he has written books elucidating alternative life styles for American spooks wherever they might be. How he has managed to unearth all this information is a mystery, as are his sources of income. Surely his CIA pension would not be adequate.

Of course he has earned volupt royalties from his books; but if you intend to buy one, I suggest you pick up the English editions. They are more revealing. The English edition of his "Inside the Company" abounds with lurid tales, and at the book's end there is this grateful acknowledgment: "In Havana, the Biblioteca Nacional Jose Marti and the Casa de las Americas provided special assistance for research and helped find data available only from government documentation. Representatives of the Communist Part of Cuba also gave me important encouragement at a time when I doubted that I would be able to find the additional information I needed."

Well, assistance from Cuba's communist Party is bound to be encouraging for the aspiring gringo author, but Agee ought to remember that Cuba's Communist Party is also that country's largest and, as such, it has far more resources than Cuba's other parties, all of which fellow the unorthodox custom maintaining party headquarters inside Cuban prisons and cemeteries.

Agee's press conference was not widely reported in this country. His remarks were, however, reported by Radio Moscow and could be heard on AM radio bands in some American cities thanks to powerful transmitters in Cuba. That memorable broadcast reported not only Agee's revelations regarding the State Department documents but also his wider concern that American opposition to El Salvador's rebels could drag us into another Vietnam. Imagine it! There would be half-a-million Americans battling away in a country of four million. Year after year the light would appear at the end of the tunnel and then vanish. University students would be marching and Ivy League presidents would beg Secretary of State Haig to end the needless slaughter. Finally we leave. The junta is defeated. Either way, it could be bad news for the people of El Salvador. Agee's apprehensions strike me as overblown.

For that matter, so do his claims that the State Department documents are CIA forgeries. The New York Times reprinted portions of a State Department memorandum summarizing them, and they seemed plausible enough. One series shows Shafik Handal, secretary general of the Salvadoran Communist Party, undertaking a kind of Gulliver's travels from the U.S.S.R. to Vietnam to East Germanya to Czechoslovakia to Bulgaria to Hungary to Ethiopia. Always, arms and money awaited him. Agee tells us that this is a CIA fabrication, and who would gainsay a man with his connections? Yet is he trying to tell us that the Soviets and their puppets are not supplying arms? Then where do the Marxist-Leninst ragamuffins get them?

In their recent unsuccessfull offensive the rebels proved two things: 1) They have a plenitude of arms and 2) they do not evoke much affection from the majority of the population. These rebels are hard-line Marxist, and even their erst-while friends in the region are now withdrawing their support. If America and its allies resolutely oppose this attempt to establish another Marxist colony in our back yard, the rebels will fail. So with whom is Agee trying to ingratiate himself?

My guess is that this "former" CIA operative is attempting to win the confidence of the Soviets. They would be wise to be on their guard. Once a CIA agent, always a CIA agent; that is a maxim worth remembering. Holding press conferences in the capital of a NATO ally? Taunting the infamous CIA for a decade and still no suspicious mishaps? Come on, comrades. Here is a CIA double agent in the making. Who else would Agee be working for?