Daniel Walter Richardson, the Army sergeant arrested Thursday on espionage charges near Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, was a low-ranking tool shop custodian with "no ready access" to secret materials to offer the Soviet Union, according to Army and FBI officials.

Sketchy details patched together from government spokesmen yesterday created an image of a 41-year-old divorced enlisted man with a largely undistinguished military career, who lived by himself in bachelor quarters on the sprawling military post 35 miles northeast of Baltimore.

His job: to issue tools to students learning how to repair and maintain gun turrets on Army tanks and other weapons.

Richardson was arrested Thursday by FBI and military intelligence agents at a Holiday Inn near the proving ground where he allegedly expected to meet a Soviet contact.

Investigators first learned through electronic surveillance of Richardson's alleged desire to contact a Soviet representative, officials said. Richardson was then contacted by an undercover agent posing as a Soviet, the officials said, and a meeting was set up at the Holiday Inn, leading to his arrest, with government documents in his possession.

Richardson was transferred yesterday from Aberdeen to a stockade at Fort Meade near Laurel. He faces a general court martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and could receive a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

He is charged with espionage, failure to report contact with a foreign government, larceny of government property and unauthorized disposition of government property.

Asked if investigators believed Richardson was motivated by financial need or revenge against the Army because of some perceived injury, Army Intelligence and Security Command spokesman Lt. Col. John Ooley said, "More than likely both." Military spies rarely are motivated by political conversion to the ideology of other countries, he said.

"The bad guys {foreign agents recruiting U.S. military spies} are looking for guys that are sexually active or . . . in financial debt or have some feeling of revenge," said Ooley. " . . . I'm not saying that's the case with {Richardson}, but these are the kind of guys they go for."

Army spokesmen would neither confirm nor deny reports that the documents Richardson possessed at his arrest were not classified. They pointed out, however, that espionage can be charged even in cases of delivery of nonsecret materials.

Officials said no serious breach of security apparently occurred. Richardson had a "secret" clearance, "but no ready access" to classified materials, said Aberdeen spokesman John Yaquiant. A "secret" clearance is a relatively low sensitivity status given to thousands of military personnel.

Born in Los Angeles, according to officials, Richardson joined the Army in March 1968.

At Aberdeen, a 72,500-acre testing site for a wide range of military weapons, vehicles and ammunition, he was assigned to the 601st Ordnance Battalion, 61st Brigade.

Though he was trained as an instructor, Yaquiant said, his job was to take care of the tool crib for the Ordnance Center School at Aberdeen. "He issued tools to students in the school and maintained the tools," Yaquiant said.

Several Army officials agreed that Richardson's career appeared limited, noting he had attained only the rank of sergeant in nearly 20 years of service.