Much of the intelligence that prompted US authorities to raise alerts around major financial institutions indicated that Al-Qaeda studied the sites as potential targets before the September 11, 2001 attacks, The Washington Post said.
The newspaper cited anonymous US intelligence and law enforcement officials as saying that most of the information was at least three years old and had been obtained through the Internet or other "open sources" available to the public, including some floor plans.
"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? ... I still don't know that."
A Homeland Security alert was issued Sunday identifying as possible Al-Qaeda targets the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup in New York City, Prudential Finance in Newark, New Jersey, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington.
The five cited targets were subjected to their highest level of security since the September 11, 2001 attacks, with barricades, rapid response teams and sniffer dogs providing several rings of protection.
The information that sparked the terror alert was stored in computer files, e-mail addresses and cell-phones text messages seized by Pakistani authorities after the June 12 arrest and interrogation of suspected Al-Qaeda operative Musaad Aruchi in Karachi, officials told the Post.
The computer information, which officials said included logs of pedestrian traffic and notes on the types of explosives that might work best against each target, was evaluated in light of recent intelligence indicating Al-Qaeda was preparing to strike before the November 2 US presidential election.
Information gathered on the plot also included details on escape routes, security cameras, the best place to park vehicles with explosives and even the degree of garage ramp inclines.
Aruchi's capture led to other arrests last week including Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a key Al-Qaeda suspect in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa, and an unnamed computer engineer also connected to al-Qaeda.
Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP Tuesday that computer discs and email records found on Ghailani and the computer engineer contained "valuable information" which Pakistan "has shared with our friends."
However, Pakistani officials are reluctant to confirm whether the information led to the heightened US terror alerts.
US President George W. Bush on Monday rejected criticism that the public alert only served to generate panic about a situation over which ordinary people had little or no control.
"We have an obligation: When we find out something, we got to share it," Bush said. "If we were just silent on the subject, I think that people would be a lot more nervous."
Although not named on the target list, other high-profile buildings and institutions, such as the United Nations and the US Capitol, also upgraded their security.
© 2004 Copyright AFP