A terrorism expert said yesterday that the current lull in terrorist activity could be dangerous because the United States is likely to drop its guard and lose interest in the issue.

Robert Kupperman of the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies warned that "if life turns benign, we will turn apathetic." He said the United States needs to think "a few chess moves ahead" instead of following a reactive policy against terrorists.

Kupperman, who chaired a Center panel on terrorism that included academics, law enforcement officials and retired senior military officers, discussed the group's conclusions at a morning briefing. The panel determined that the United States is ill-equipped to counter the threat of terrorists' increasing technological capabilities, and recommended several tools to deter attacks, such as advanced "explosive sniffers" at airports.

Kupperman also emphasized the need to study counterterrorism measures against chemical and biological attacks. "We really have to cope with what may be tomorrow's terrorists," he said.

The panel recommended reorganizing the nation's antiterrorism management by creating a coordinator on the National Security Council staff, a congressional oversight committee, and a combined federal-state-municipal government program. In addition, the panel recommended that the federal government establish a formal mechanism to coordinate research and development of counterterrorism measures and to ensure rapid application by responsible agencies.

The panel also suggested clarifying the role of the Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism, a governmental organization created in the 1970s. The organization should continually review tactical counterterrorism capabilities to help set U.S. intelligence-gathering operations, priorities and development of new counterterrorism measures, the panel concluded.