The West German government embarked on a high-level security review and a massive overhaul of its intelligence services today following the defection of one of its leading counterespionage officials to East Germany.

Interior Ministry officials said that a thorough reconstruction of West Germany's domestic counterespionage system must take place quickly and that foreign operations would have to be altered. Some Bonn agents reportedly were recalled from the East for protective purposes as soon as the defection became evident.

The revelation yesterday that Hans Joachim Tiedge, the man in charge of tracking Eastern Bloc spies inside West Germany, had arrived in East Berlin to seek political asylum stunned Chancellor Helmut Kohl's ruling center-right coalition and caused consternation in capitals of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

NATO officials and western diplomats said the scandal would lead allied governments to curtail exchanges of sensitive material with the Bonn government because of its vulnerability to penetration by Communist agents.

As the third-ranking official for counterintelligence operations, Tiedge, 48, had access to a broad range of top-secret information.

Besides information on western intelligence contacts in Eastern Europe, security sources said, Tiedge knew the methods used in rooting out East German agents and the names of suspects under surveillance.

One of the enigmas dominating the urgent security review undertaken by the Kohl government is whether Tiedge served as a long-term mole for East Germany during his 19 years in counterintelligence work, or whether his betrayal occurred after he fell victim to serious alcohol and debt problems in the wake of his wife's death three years ago.

Interior Ministry officials said they believe Tiedge may have "been turned" only within the past six months as his personal troubles grew more acute.

But some nongovernment experts said that West Germany's failure to capture any important East German spies since 1979 could indicate that Tiedge had worked for the Communists for a long time.

Even so, some intelligence specialists said knowing when the traitor changed loyalties may be irrelevant.

"What Tiedge did not betray before, he will tell now in East Berlin," said Richard Meier, a former head of the Office for Protection of the Constitution, which handles counterespionage activities.

"He knew practically everything. He carried virtually all of the secrets of our spy defense network in his head," Meier said.

East German media highlighted the defection but simultaneously underlined that country's close relationship with West Germany, Reuter reported from East Germany.

The scandal has provoked intense criticism of Tiedge's superiors because they apparently knew of his drinking and financial difficulties yet failed to relieve him of his sensitive post.

One of Tiedge's neighbors said on West German television that he personally informed Heribert Hellenbroich, then head of internal security, about the spy hunter's drunken and disorderly habits but his warnings were ignored.

Hellenbroich, 48, who was promoted earlier this month to become chief of foreign intelligence, said today that he had nothing to be ashamed of in keeping Tiedge in his job and insisted he would not resign from his new post.

But Hans Jochen Vogel, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, insisted on a full investigation of the intelligence authorities, who he said had been made to look like "utter and complete fools" in disregarding Tiedge's problems as a potential security risk.

Besides Hellenbroich, Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann and the chancellor's adviser on security affairs, Waldemar Schreckenberger, are facing political pressure to accept responsiblity for the spy scandal and resign.

The Tiedge affair is only the latest in a series of espionage betrayals that periodically underscore the security problems confronted by West Germany.

Government institutions and political parties are considered to be easy prey for East German agents, who face no language or cultural barriers when they seek to infiltrate West Germany.

East Berlin's Ministry for State Security, which calls itself the "sword and shield of socialism," draws on formidable resources and wields vast power in suppressing internal dissent as well as carrying out foreign espionage tasks.

In contrast, West Germany's intelligence services are divided to thwart the growth of any overly powerful security apparatus.

The Interior Ministry oversees counterespionage operations, the chancellor's office controls foreign espionage, and the Defense Ministry manages military intelligence.

Under Markus Wolf, considered East Germany's master spy, Communist agents have developed sophisticated ways of exploiting West Germany's open society, its protective privacy laws and its willingness to grant passports and full citizenship to all Germans regardless of their birthplace.

East German spies usually remain dormant for the first few years after entering West Germany, often by posing as political refugees or assuming identities of West Germans who have settled in the East.

Two other spy suspects who have vanished here recently, including the secretary of Economics Minister Martin Bangemann, lived and worked in West Germany under false identities for the past two decades.

Those two and another alleged spy -- who served as a messenger for the West German Army -- are believed to have fled to East Berlin, possibly after being informed by Tiedge that they were in danger of being captured.