Douglas F. Groat, the former CIA employee charged with espionage, was a man who went by the book.

The problem was, he had the only copy. He so antagonized his bosses with his peculiar perfectionism that he lost the jobs he loved best: first with the Glenville, N.Y., police department, then with the CIA.Groat was surely a stickler, his former wife and his former colleagues agree. Whether he is a traitor is another question. He sits in a cell in a secret location, accused of revealing U.S. code-breaking capabilities to foreign governments, crimes that constitute treason and carry the threat of death.

Groat, who was arrested last week, has pleaded not guilty. The federal public defenders representing him have declined to comment. But Groat's supporters say privately that the indictment, the third major espionage charge against a CIA veteran in four years, may have grown out of a personnel dispute.

The case arose from a 2 1/2-year fight he picked with the CIA in 1993 - in essence, the same 2 1/2-year fight he picked with the five-man police force back in Glenville 20 years before.

The CIA hired him in May 1980 and he spent the next 13 years working as "a burglar, a thief breaking into foreign embassies overseas.

In May 1993, Groat was placed on leave, suspended with pay, cut off from classified information.

Groat is charged with trying to extort more than $500,000 from the CIA from May 1996 to last February. It remains to be proved that this was anything more than an arguably outrageous negotiating position in a personnel dispute.

The case against him thus far is the barest of bones: a four-page indictment, bereft of facts.

The government has presented no proof that Groat was a spy.