I then tried to find Jukt the old-fashioned way, by calling operators in each of California's 15 area codes, plus the 800 and 888 toll-free exchanges. But there was no listing of Jukt Micronics in the state of California. I checked with the Software Publishers Association of America, the California Secretary of State business filings department, and the state tax franchise board. There was no record of Jukt Micronics.

I opened email from my hacker contacts, and for a change they all agreed: the New Republic story was a "fraud," "B.S.," "If there are hacker agents then I'm a Spice Girl," and "Another example of a capitalist media publication hyping the hacker menace." A few minutes later, a Lexis-Nexis database search turned up only one reference to Jukt Micronics: Glass's New Republic story.

Sometimes it's hard enough just to check facts. It can take half a dozen phone calls to confirm one nugget of information, but once you verify it, you've done your job. To prove something or someone doesn't exist is much more challenging: every time you strike out means another query, another phone call, another wasted hour poking around databases or the internet. I wondered if I published a story that debunked the existence of Jukt Micronics if I could be leaving myself open to potential trouble, possibly even a libel or slander suit. Was it possible that some pimply-faced 20-something running his own startup called Jukt Micronics out of his parents' garage would read my story, then come out of the digital woodwork?

I spent the next day and a half trying to confirm one fact--any fact--in the whole story. But law enforcement officials from Nevada's attorney general's office, the state highway patrol, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Force claimed they had never financed any anti-hacker public service campaigns. I also called editors at the state's two biggest daily newspapers and top four radio stations but came up with dead air.

I contacted officials from the FBI, the Justice Department, U.S. customs departments, and police departments in California and New Hampshire (both aggressive cybercrime fighters), and no one had heard of any organization, law, or government agency mentioned in the article. If, as Glass reported, 21 states were considering versions of the "Uniform Computer Security Act," which would criminalize immunity deals between hackers and companies, the Chicago-based National Conference of Commissions on Uniform State Laws had no knowledge of it.

Finally, I phoned Charles Lane, the New Republic's top editor. I told him I had serious questions about "Hack Heaven" and was considering doing my own story on it. Lane told me he would look into it. Two hours later he called back. "Here's a number," he said. "Tell me what you think."

A 650 area code, Silicon Valley, a generic voice mail greeting: "You have reached the offices of Jukt Micronics. Please leave a message."

Two and a half days of hard-core research, of being convinced that Jukt Micronics was merely a fantasy, and I was getting the companypis voice mail? I simply couldnpit believe it. I grabbed a colleague of mine, and each time we simultaneously dialed Jukt one of us would get a busy signal. This was suspicious. How many software companies have only one line into its switchboard? I then called Pac Bell and asked an operator whether the Jukt number was listed as business or residential. It was a cell phone.

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