(Adds senator urging agencies to protect security clearances, Justice Department urging precautions)
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - U.S. spy agencies are closely monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and are taking “appropriate steps” to ensure the safety, security and health of their workforce, an intelligence official told Reuters on Wednesday.
The U.S. Justice Department is also advising employees to take precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus and its spread, a department official said.
The intelligence community “will continue to ensure its mission remains uninterrupted,” said the official from the U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which supervises 17 U.S. agencies operating around the world.
The workforces of U.S. spy agencies were being encouraged “to observe and follow information provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)” and the broader medical community, the official said on condition of anonymity.
As they implement government-wide guidelines on coronavirus issued by the Office of Personnel Management, “agencies are developing preparation and response plans,” the official said.
The official declined to specify the measures.
Another official familiar with intelligence agency precautions said that hand sanitizers and other relevant equipment had already been extensively installed in relevant buildings.
On Wednesday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to ODNI and the Office of Personnel Management asking them to issue “clear guidance” ensuring that spy agency employees and contractors’ security clearances will not be jeopardized as a result of financial hardships the coronavirus might cause them.
At the Justice Department, an official said its workforce had officially been advised “that although the overall risk to people in the U.S. remains low, the department recommends following CDC guidance on preventive actions aimed at reducing exposure to, and the spread of, respiratory viruses.”
The official added that “employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick until they are free of fever and other symptoms for 24 hours.” (Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Bernadette Baum ; Editing by Richard Chang)