A federal magistrate ordered on Monday that the government unseal three search warrants and other documents in connection with its massive defense procurement investigation, but allowed 10 days for an appeal of the decision.

The documents pertain to the government's investigation of a senior Air Force procurement officer and two private consultants, all of whose homes were searched as part of the investigation into fraud in the defense industry.U.S. Magistrate James Kenkel directed that both the warrants used to search the three homes and the inventory of items taken by authorities be made public.

"The very scope of (this) investigation . . . has overriding and broad public interest," the judge said, suggesting that the public would be better served if news stories on the subject be based on the legal documents instead of rumor.

Judge Kenkel said the more sensitive affidavits used to support the request for the warrants could remain sealed another 45 days.

The request to unseal the documents was made in a petition filed by The Washington Post, which argued that a month already had passed since the documents were put under seal and there has been considerable public interest in the investigation.

Federal prosecutors heading the investigation argued, however, that disclosure of information contained in the documents would hinder their continuing investigations.

The documents, including the inventory list of items taken by police, "would give a broad outline of what the government is looking for, what the government has found and more important what the government doesn't have," argued Joseph J. Aronica, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District where the probe is centered.

He suggested that other targets of the investigation could use the information to fashion future testimony or to destroy documents.

The documents ordered unsealed pertain to Victor Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in charge of buying tactical command, control and communications systems; William Sanda, a defense industry consultant; and Richard Seelmeyer, the operator of an air charter service and former congressional staffer involved in defense appropriations.