Chapter 3

Jesse swallowed hard, wondering how he had gotten here. The university's prosecutor had just painted him as a screwoff that, even though he should never have been hired, most definitely should not be allowed to handle anything more than a press release for an obscure bit of undergraduate research. Jesse had admired the bastard's poise and confidence as he delivered one gently stretched fact after another, building to a rousing conclusion that even Jesse found convincing. But it simply didn't agree with reality. Never let the facts get in the way, Jesse thought to himself.

Three weeks earlier, Jesse had just finished writing a report for his superiors that evaluated the success of a new program at CUNY that paired journalism students with investigative reporters from major news organizations and private investigative agencies. William Tweedie, the current president of CUNY, had made it his personal mission to restore investigative journalism to its rightful place as a tool that feeds the beating heart of democracy. In addition to the partnership with private agencies, the vision stated, students would conduct an internship overseas in an area of strategic interest to the United States. Military zones and several unfriendly nations were understandably excluded, but this did nothing to blunt the flood of criticism that the Tweedie, and the university as a whole, endured in the months that followed.

One prominent liberal blog bemoaned the arrogance and gall of a university president who would put his students at risk in foreign political landscapes where the local newspapers were as likely to carry a story about a reporter who had been jailed and executed as a spy as they were to discuss news about the London Stock Exchange. Conservative hawks were just as eager to pounce, declaring investigative journalism a dead art that shouldn't be put on life support. The interference of reporters in military and diplomatic affairs, they went on, had a detrimental effect on combat effectiveness and encouraged commanders and politicians to withdraw from public inquiry and debate for fear of being mischaracterized in the press.

Tweedie refused to pull the plug on the program that had made him a household name. Perhaps by taking public figures to task and embracing modern technology as a means of tracking and eliminating corruption, he argued, the young public can wrest control of its future from the cash-heavy organizations that have a key vested interest in keeping everyone in the dark. It took a toll on him, which was evidenced most clearly by the private security detail that he hired to keep a few eyes on his family's small house. His efforts to promote investigative journalism and to encourage students to take up the fight inspired many, especially students in France and elsewhere in the United States, to form impromptu groups of vigilante reporters. There was a steady stream of reports of students being arrested or harassed by police after they had been found trespassing or had been accused of stalking. While the actions of these student reporters departed from what Tweedie had intended, it told him something important: the will to peel back the layers of secrecy and deceit that crippled the public's understanding of major events, long thought to be lost on the young generations of the 21st century, was alive and well.

At the time of his first trial, Jesse Winter was 29. A graduate of University of Colorado at Boulder, he held a dual degree in public policy and mathematics, with a concentration in information technology policy. He had also taken a minor in poetry. Jesse had served as the president of the campus debate club, had a senior internship at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and wrote a technology column for a Boulder newspaper.

Jesse joined CUNY fresh out of college. He had been offered positions at the Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom and a handful of private firms in Germany and the northeastern United States. Making the decision to stay in the U.S. had been difficult, but the job paid well enough that Jesse could afford to travel and satisfy his interest in foreign politics. His official title was Special Deputy to the Dean, working in the Office of the Ombudsman. While this was misleading--his duties frequently involved international travel to undisclosed locations and conferring with individuals that the university could not publicly recognize as partners--much of his work was in the vein of settling disputes.

When William Tweedie had announced his pet program for reinvigorating investigative journalism, he had personally notified Jesse that his job description would be changing. If he felt comfortable with the plan, then he was welcome to stay. Jesse was intrigued by the promise of hush-hush work, additional travel, and doing his part to promote an old component of journalism that he had found lacking. He signed a non-disclosure agreement, agreed to the revised terms, and came to work the next week to find that his desk and computer had been removed. In its place was a note from the dean and a plane ticket without a marked destination that left from a terminal at JFK that Jesse had never heard of. "This should be educational," he said, turning on his heel and heading toward the elevator.

"You're going to eastern Europe," the dean had told him. "The flight plan has been filed, and your pilot knows what to do. Here's some background for you to read over while you're over the Atlantic." He handed Jesse a thin tablet computer whose only marking was a serial number etched into the upper right corner.

"What's the scoop?" Jesse asked, running his hand over the tablet.

"You'll find everything on there," said the dean. "This project is the president's baby, and you probably know more than I do. When you land, use the switch on the side of the tablet to securely erase its flash memory. None of the information on it is illegal, but it's sensitive and we don't want you getting tied up in a rumble with immigration."

"All right," Jesse said. He noted the location of the secure erasure switch and looked back at the dean. "Should I pay an extra month's rent, or is this a visit for tea?"

The dean laughed. "See you in two weeks, son."