Why am I a threat? A Muslim PhD student gets targeted as a security risk; now he wants to know why

David Kroman & Lilly A. Fowler

One day last fall, a month before Donald Trump was elected president, Lassana Magassa disappeared from his job with Delta Airlines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Employees are fired or quit all the time, but Magassa, who is Black and Muslim, had given no indication he was ready to leave and, according to his colleagues, was a perfectly capable ramp agent. So without any word from supervisors or Magassa himself, all that was left to do was speculate.
“It just seemed super weird,” says a former colleague. “One day everything was fine and the next thing he was gone.”

Jorge Harris, another of Magassa’s former co-workers, says “I couldn’t figure out what happened.”

As it turned out, the rank-and-file Delta employees were not the only ones in the dark. A directive to deny him access to the secure areas where he’d worked for over a year had been passed down to the Port of Seattle, Sea-Tac’s operator, from the Transportation Security Administration. And the explanation — to Delta supervisors, to Port of Seattle employees and to Magassa — was thin.

“Mr. Magassa,” reads an almost apologetic one-page note from the Port of Seattle’s head of airport security, “We are in receipt of notification from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), that your status in their vetting system has changed requiring immediate revocation of your security badge.”

“TSA does not provide any further information to the airport operator (Port of Seattle),” concludes the note. Magassa, for all intents and purposes, had been fired.

For Magassa, 36, it was the most puzzling piece in a series of perplexing interactions with federal law enforcement. A year earlier an FBI agent had started efforts to recruit him as an informant. And hours before losing his airport badge, he’d learned that he no longer qualified for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s global entry program, which expedites security for low-risk travelers.