It is as though the Reagan administration had been sprinkled with a chemical that allowed it to be tracked across the roughest and remotest diplomatic terrain: sprinkled with something akin to the "spy dust" that the administration now reports that the Russians sprinkled on and about Americans living in Moscow, the better to spy on them. You can tell it is the Reagan administration by the prickly quality of its exchanges with the Soviet Union and, perhaps even more, by the anxious, tiresome quality of much American criticism of administration policy.

It should surprise no one that the Soviet police may have used a chemical powder to track Americans in Moscow; other intelligence agencies may do something similar. It is in character, furthermore -- here is the alarming part -- for the KGB to have used a chemical either knowing or not knowing and not caring that it might harm those dusted with it. The State Department, finding through new tests and measurements that dosages were increasing, surely was right to sound an alert. The department recalls, as it should, the resentment stirred among American diplomats by the official failure to tell them of the possible risks of an earlier Soviet counterintelligence operation involving microwave bombardment of the American embassy.

In the current instance, the warning to Americans and the protest to the Kremlin were bound to come off as something other than strictly humanitarian in origin. The United States does not enjoy a relationship with the Soviet Union that allows for the early and discreet treatment of such questions.

The Soviet government is counterattacking with a familiar combination of asserted innocence and polemical overkill. Domestic criticism of the administration's approach is another matter. Again, the onus is being pt not so much on the suspected Soviet act as on the American response to it: thus does a police operation mounted by the Soviets become a "controversy" in which the American side is the principal one held to account. To the president -- in order to indict him for somehow jeopardizing the forthcoming Reagan-Gorbachev summit -- is being attributed precisely the capacity for planning events he is otherwise faulted for lacking.

We don't think the prospects of the summit have been altered in the slightest. We think the Soviets should stop the dusting at least until a fair determination is made of what its dangers may be.