Sgt. Clayton J. Lonetree once told a State Department official he preferred the Soviet way of life over its American counterpart, the official testified yesterday in the Marine's espionage court-martial.

"He told me he thought the Soviet system was fairer," because there was less of an emphasis on money and social class, said Daniel Devine, who did not specify his position with the department.

Devine said that during his barroom conversation with Lonetree, which took place when the Marine was a guard at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Lonetree did not say he wanted to either live in the Soviet Union or help the Soviet Union.

Lonetree's statements did not seem to pose any type of threat, Devine said, so he did not report them to superiors.

Testimony from a former registered nurse at the Vienna embassy, Karen Cole, indicated that Lonetree underwent treatment for a drinking problem.

Portions of Lonetree's court-martial at the Quantico Marine Base were closed yesterday as prosecutors called two confidential witnesses, including a man believed to be the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Vienna.

That witness, identified in court as "Big John," was followed to the stand by an official identified only as "Little John," whom Lonetree told last Dec. 14 of his involvement with Soviets.

A document the Marines say was mistakenly released indicates Lonetree made his first statements on the alleged espionage to a CIA station chief.

Lonetree, 25, of St. Paul, Minn., a former Moscow embassy guard, faces life in prison if convicted of the 13 counts he faces, which include allegations he gave CIA identities and embassy floor plans to the Soviets.

The defense sought without success yesterday to introduce what it said was evidence that security at the Vienna embassy was lax when Lonetree was a guard there.

Outside court, defense lawyers said embassy superiors for weeks ignored warnings from Lonetree that five safes containing top secret materials were left open within a few feet of a photocopier.

The defense is pursuing a theory that Lonetree was set up by State Department officials who wanted to shield a double-agent known as "Sasha."

Defense lawyers said they plan to take testimony from Shaun Byrnes, a State Department official who works in a classified section of the Moscow embassy. Byrnes, like predecessors David Chapman and Kent Brown, is said to have maintained contacts with Sasha.

Lonetree's lawyers said he may have been set up to funnel nonvital secrets to Sasha, so Sasha could maintain credibility with the Soviet KGB secret police while serving as a double-agent for the United States. Lonetree's Soviet girlfriend, Violetta, who introduced him to Sasha, also had contacts with Byrnes, the defense said.

Kunstler said government investigators may have been unaware that they could be exposing a Soviet working as a double-agent for the State Department.