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Georgia Tech continues to deny professor Lee access to fight COVID-19

Georgia Tech mathematical modeling professor Eva Lee. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com)
Georgia Tech mathematical modeling professor Eva Lee. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com)

Georgia Tech continues to deny acclaimed professor Eva Lee access to her school computers to allow her to help the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 14, Lee’s lawyer renewed the request for the professor to get access to the 200 modeling computers she has used on the Tech campus to help governments respond to prior and potential disasters. In his letter, attorney Buddy Parker said Lee did not have to be physically on campus to access them.

Tech denied that request on Tuesday.

Lee has been barred by Tech from accessing her computers because National Science Foundation agents found she had falsified a membership certificate behind a $40,000 grant. She has pleaded guilty to making false statements.

Even so, two top officials at the Department of Homeland Security have asked Tech to grant Lee access to her computers. The first request was made Jan. 31 by the head of DHS’s Agro/Bio Terrorism Countermeasures Division. The second request was sent March 23 by Duane Caneva, the agency’s chief medical officer.

“She has been playing a vital role in our whole-of-nation response to the current COVID-19 response,” Caneva wrote. “ … I urge Georgia Tech to consider restoring access to her computational resources at this critical time.”

Tech refused both requests, saying it needed a written request from a top U.S. official overseeing the country’s efforts.

Parker has noted that Lee has been working with an elite group of government and academic infectious disease and medical experts responding to COVID-19. They have been linked together in an email chain called "The Red Dawn String," and Parker said the exchanges show Caneva is a senior U.S. official overseeing the country's response.

Lee can help states coordinate testing and the eventual distribution of vaccines, Parker wrote. “Dr. Lee needs access to the 200 computers housed at Georgia Tech which are currently being unused, as thousands die from COVID-19.”

In rejecting the latest request, the university stated: “Our condition for Dr. Lee to access her GT computer systems remains the same: the request must come from an official writing on behalf of a (U.S.) government agency or organization working to mitigate the impacts of this pandemic.”

“Although Georgia Tech has received letters of support from esteemed federal government employees that highlight her expertise and the insight she has been providing to an ad hoc consortium of researchers via e-mail, these letters fall short of specifically requesting or calling for Dr. Lee’s participation in an official government effort,” the school said. “Georgia Tech remains open to receiving and reviewing such a request.”

In light of her guilty plea, Lee was asked to authenticate a government project, the school said. “She has been unable to do so.”

On Wednesday, Parker said Tech’s general counsel has said the U.S. Attorney’s Office took no position on whether Lee could access her computers.

“Regardless of the U.S. Attorney’s apparent neutral position, Georgia Tech’s continued denial of Dr. Lee to access the computers by continuing to make impossible demands that cannot be met covers-up, masks its ‘institutional fear’ — a fear of losing future government awards and grants,” he said. “Regrettably, Georgia Tech has chosen to value money over saving lives.”