An American company, Wendell-Crenshaw Technologies, unveils its most recent creation: Echelon, a new system designed for the National Security Agency that will allow for extraordinary capabilties in tracking and recording conversations and information. In Rome, a student named Francesca Savelli inadvertently picks up a bag that contains materials about the new system; when they realize that the bag is gone, agents for Wendell-Crenshaw as well as for the NSA track her down and sequester her, convinced that her act was deliberate and part of a plot to steal the new technology. Suddenly, Francesca gets caught up in the labyrinthine world of state secrets and industrial espionage.