One of the three senior members of the White House staff launched the FBI investigation of the $1,000 in cash that White House national security adviser Richard V. Allen received from Japanese journalists who interviewed Nancy Reagan, well-informed sources said yesterday.

Allen has said he does not know who brought the FBI into the case, but the sources said that decision was made by one of President Reagan's senior advisers who outrank Allen and who have become known as the Big Three.

Those three, chief of staff James A. Baker III, presidential counselor Edwin Meese III and deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, often act only after agreeing together.

It is not clear who brought knowledge of the cash to the highest White House staff level, but it appears that Allen was not informed of the decision to launch an FBI investigation after the discovery of the cash in mid-September.

Allen will remain at his post during a Justice Department investigation of the $1,000 payment, and the White House intends to refuse all further comment on the case until that investigation is complete, deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said yesterday.

Despite the decision to refuse all official comment, there were reliable reports that Mrs. Reagan was angry at Allen over the incident. In the aftermath of reports that Allen helped arrange the interview for Japanese friends of his with Mrs. Reagan, she was said to be furious that she had been unwittingly involved in what has become an embarrassment to the administration.

The president also was said to be unhappy that the incident had involved his wife.

Allen participated in a National Security Council meeting with President Reagan yesterday, the first time the men had met since reports surfaced Friday that Allen had received $1,000 in cash from a group of Japanese as an expression of gratitude for their interview with Mrs. Reagan the day after the president took office.

An unidentified person found the cash in a safe in a third floor Executive Office Building office that Allen sometimes used as a hideaway and a quiet place to meet foreign dignitaries.

Since Friday Allen has defended his actions publicly.

One of Allen's contentions was that although he is an old friend of Tamotsu Takase and his wife, Chizuko, who was one of the Japanese present at the interview, he had no financial relationship with them. Sources in the international consulting community challenged this yesterday, saying that Takase was involved in a Japanese trade organization called Technova that paid consulting fees to Allen's former consulting firm Potomac International Corp.

The new owner of Potomac, former Reagan aide Peter Hannaford, confirmed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he took over the Technova account when he bought Allen's consulting interests Jan. 18, three days before the Japanese interview with Mrs. Reagan.

Hannaford said earlier that Allen telephoned him in Los Angeles Saturday to discuss the wording of the statement Allen issued denying that he had participated in any discussion of the $1,000 thank-you fee.

Another source said that before entering government Allen worked through Takase to brief the top leaders of the giant corporation Mitsubishi to provide analyses of political trends in the United States under a commercial agreement.

The White House decision to circle the wagons rather than answer more questions about the interview which appeared in Shufu no Tomo (Housewife's Companion) came after several of the early statements by Allen and White House spokesmen were disputed. The first White House report Friday said that White House counsel Fred Fielding had determined that the investigation of Allen had exonerated him. The Justice Department quickly responded that its investigation had not been completed.

The matter now is in the public integrity section of Justice's criminal division, where lawyers are awaiting additional FBI reports before deciding whether to recommend to Attorney General William French Smith that a special prosecutor be appointed as required by the Ethics in Government Act.

White House communications director David Gergen said Fielding had reached his conclusion that Allen had been cleared without contacting Justice. Fielding had relied on Allen and others inside the White House for information, Gergen said.

Fielding is a longtime friend of Allen and did legal work for him before both men joined the administration.

Allen at first said he did not set up the interview for the Japanese journalists, then conceded he had been the initial person contacted. He has said he moved out of the office, forgetting about the cash in the safe. Other sources report, however, that Allen never relinquished control over the office and continued to use it.

Allen said he intercepted the payment because he wanted to avoid embarrassing the Japanese or involving Mrs. Reagan. The cash was meant for Mrs. Reagan in accordance with a Japanese custom of thank-you gifts, Allen said.

"I am just not going to answer any questions," Speakes told reporters at the daily White House briefing yesterday when asked about the Allen affair. Speakes said Reagan and his chief advisers had decided not to comment until Justice concludes its investigation.

He said he knows of no plans to change Allen's duties but could not predict what would happen if a special prosecutor is named.