U.S. intelligence officials launched a global effort yesterday to track down whoever may have been involved in a suspected terrorist plot aimed at financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, N.J.

While they acknowledged that they had no firm indication that a plot was still under way, officials regard the information, some of which predates the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as significant and troubling.

Officials said the reconnaissance already conducted has provided Al Qaeda with the knowledge necessary to carry out attacks against the sites in Manhattan, Washington and Newark. They said Al Qaeda had often struck years after its operatives began surveillance of an intended target.

Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said yesterday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports, apparently collected by Al Qaeda operatives, had been "gathered in 2000 and 2001." But she added that information may have been updated as recently as January.

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