WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department said Tuesday it had closed offices in five states, including two in Jefferson County, W.Va., after receiving anonymous threats that it considered serious.
USDA spokesman Matthew Herrick said in a statement that the department had received “several anonymous messages” late Monday that raised concerns about the safety of USDA personnel and facilities. He said six offices were closed Tuesday morning until further notice.
The sheriff of Jefferson County has been working with federal agencies to ascertain the threat level to loca facilities.
“There’s no reason to believe the threats were locally generated,” said Sheriff Pete Dougherty. “It was a non-descript threat over email. We’re working with federal agencies to be whatever assistance we can be.”
The Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville and the Cool and Cold Water Aquatic Research facility in Leetown were among the officers closed Tuesday.
Herrick said the department is working with the FBI and federal and local law enforcement to determine whether the threats are credible.
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 or say how they were received, but asked employees to be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity.
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 other closed facilities are in Fort Collins, Colorado; Hamden, Connecticut; Beltsville, Maryland; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
They 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, where employees were informed of the threat Tuesday morning and sent home.
In his memo to employees, Vilsack said employees could telework or take authorized leave.
Journal staff writer Matt Dellinger contributed to this report.