USDA To Reopen Offices Closed After Email Threats

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Agriculture Department will reopen some offices Wednesday that were closed after an unspecified email threat.

USDA spokesman Matthew Herrick said offices in Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina and Kearneysville, West Virginia, will open Wednesday with additional security enhancements. USDA offices in Hamden, Connecticut, and Leetown, West Virginia, will remain closed while waiting for security improvements or notifications to union officials.

Herrick said earlier Tuesday that the department had received “several anonymous messages” late Monday that raised concerns about the safety of USDA personnel and facilities. Offices in six locations in five states were closed Tuesday morning “until further notice.”

Herrick said the threat was one email message sent to multiple employees at all the locations.

“Without getting into detail of the email message, USDA continues to work closely with federal and local law enforcement, including the FBI, to determine whether the threat is credible,” Herrick said.

Herrick said USDA is continuing to work with law enforcement but officials determined the offices could be re-opened with additional security.

The closed facilities include offices for eight USDA agencies, including the Forest Service and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Among the sites affected was USDA’s sprawling agricultural research center and library in Beltsville, Maryland, where employees were informed of the threat Tuesday morning and sent home. In Fort Collins, Colorado, four buildings at the Natural Resources Research Center — a campus where over 1,000 people work — were closed.

In an email to employees, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA is closing the offices “due to the serious nature of these threats.” He did not characterize the threats, but asked employees to be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity. He said employees could telework or take authorized leave.

White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said the Department of Homeland Security is working with USDA “to ensure the safety of their offices and the personnel that work there.”

The temporary closures may have affected some tourists. In Colorado, the Forest Service’s Canyon Lakes Ranger District tweeted that its information center was closed.

By Mary Clare Jalonick, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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