By Jeannine Sherman

October 14, 2022

Standing in Front of the Water with No Options


“Moses said, ‘No, my Lord is with me: He will guide me,’ and We revealed to Moses: ‘Strike the sea with your staff.’ It parted – each side like a mighty mountain-”

(Quran 26 : 62-63)


Lassana Magassa, Ph.D., is a warm and engaging father of five. His interests are wide and varied. He loves to travel and keeps his heart open for new connections.


Here’s the story in his own words.


“I met MLFA six years ago. It was 2014 or 2015. During that time, I was attending the University of Washington. I was in the doctoral program there. I was on a fellowship, mostly did research… At the same time, I applied for a job with the airlines – Delta Airlines.”


A friend of his had been encouraging him to travel more. When Dr. Magassa said it was too expensive, his friend suggested that he find a job working for the airlines, explaining, “I used to work for the airlines, and I would fly anywhere in the world for little or nothing at all.”


Lassana got a job with Delta Airlines as a baggage handler. The position required multiple levels of security clearance. While in one of the security interviews with the U.S. Customs, he mentioned that he was interested in working in law enforcement, that he had previously applied to work as an FBI agent. The interviewer asked if she could share his information, and he agreed.


Tad from Customs and Border Patrol contacted him by phone to get more information, and they met at a “secret room at the airport”. Tad asked Lassana some questions, said he didn’t have anything for him just then but that he would share his information if anything came up.


Dr. Magassa was then contacted by an Agent Truong. Dr. Magassa was eager to meet, thinking that they would offer him a job in law enforcement: “We met at the next possible date. He came to the University of Washington. I took him to a cafe that everyone goes to. We sat outside of the cafe, in a balcony area. He started by introducing himself as an agent, said he was new to Seattle. He asked me some questions about terrorism, different foreign countries, what did I think.


I told him, ‘Allah commands us to do good, regardless of who’s watching or who’s not watching. Scholars say, be more strict with yourself than with others. I really hold the Quran and the Sunnah dear. The best of creation came with the message, conveyed the message… Allah doesn’t need me to exercise violence… Before I can turn to anyone else or blame them for something, I need to turn to myself – what am I doing? What am I not doing?


The Prophet (SAW) said the ummah is like a body. If one part is aching, the other part is aching. So what am I doing in my daily life that’s affecting the people in Afghanistan or in Mali or in Ethiopia or in Palestine? What am I doing? What can I be doing differently?”

During the conversation, Lassana confirmed his support for law enforcement that keeps people safe from harm: “I’ve called 911 many times. Law enforcement plays an important role in society.”


Agent Truong said, “I’m looking for someone to work with… Maybe we can work together – if you see something, just call me. You don’t have to think or investigate, just call me.”


Lassana responded, insisting that he was not interested in working as an informant: “I’m not interested in that. If I see something wrong, I’ll call 911…”


Agent Truong then offered to pay for the service: “You don’t have to answer this right now, but I just want you to know we can compensate you.”


Lassana responded with religious conviction, insisting: “I don’t need any time to think about it – I told you earlier – my sustenance comes from the Creator. My Creator has written for me what I will get, and you cannot increase that by a single penny or decrease it, no matter what you do. So I’m not interested in that.”


Although Agent Truong continued to negotiate, Dr. Magassa insisted that he was only interested in working as a “law enforcement professional on the books”, not as an informant on his community.


“He tried to call me a few times after that, left a few messages. During that time, I did a lot of traveling to Europe – France and Germany.


I was at an Internet Researchers conference in Germany. I had no problems getting in; I had Global Entry security clearance from the airport. After Germany, I went to France to see some people I know there. I tried to check in for my flight to the U.S. It didn’t work. I was having problems. I eventually went to the ticket counter. I still had my company ID at the time, and they still had me listed as an employee. They couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t get me checked into the flight.


They finally called the security – the national security department or something – I was on the list of Potential, National, or International terrorists. They needed to get special clearance for me to leave. I couldn’t get on a plane, actually. And so, I was like, ‘Okay, that’s strange…’


It took them several hours to get me approved to get on a flight. Then I missed my flight and had to go through the whole process of calling again to get me a seat on another flight. I was trying to get back to the US as quickly as possible because I was working that night at the airport.


I got to Minneapolis, still had my airport badge. They were really confused. They sincerely tried to figure out what was going on. They thought maybe it was because I lost one passport a few months earlier. I couldn’t get my ticket printed again… I had the famous four S’s, Quad S.

I finally got to the checkpoint, and they said, ‘We need to do secondary screening.’


That was my first time ever having to do secondary screening. I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I got a flight.’


‘We gotta go through all your belongings. We gotta go through the X-ray. Then we gotta do the explosive device test.’


They did all that, and I finally got through. But then I missed my flight. The door had closed right before I got there. I talked to an agent, and she checked with the TSA. And they actually made me leave the airport and come back through TSA even though I slept there the entire night.


So I did that. Still I’m confused. I don’t know what’s going on; that’s really weird.


When I arrive in Seattle, my supervisor is waiting for me at the jet bridge. I didn’t know who they were at the time, but they had the Port of Seattle police there, as well as the Head of Security for Delta Airlines.


Ma sha Allah, I had a really good relationship actually with my supervisor. When I saw him, actually, I was relieved because I thought, oh, he’s gonna help me figure out what’s going on.


Right before all this happened, I had applied for a position as a data analyst. They had approved me for that, and I was waiting to move into that position. And also I got elected to be the representative of my peers in Cargo for the entire airline across the country, so I was really excited to get back to that.


I saw my supervisor. He looked serious, as usual. ‘You gotta come and clean out your locker.’


I asked what was going on.


He gave me a letter. It was from the Port of Seattle. In the letter it said that I had to return my airport badge because the TSA had informed them that my status had changed and that I was maybe no longer qualified to hold an airport badge.


What was a little bit disappointing was that he didn’t seem to care at all.”


Dr. Magassa describes how the experience harmed his reputation and destroyed the good relationships he had built with his colleagues: “Most people, when they find out I’m on this list, first it’s shock. Then, it’s like, ‘well, who have you been hanging out with?’


And they don’t always have to say that explicitly. But in the sorts of questioning they’re doing and their tone of voice and facial expressions…

They told me, ‘I knew there was a reason he was always smiling. I knew there was something strange about that guy.’


I also kind of detached myself from people as well. I do know how the FBI functions. As I mentioned, much of the stuff you see on TV is pretty accurate – maybe downplayed, even. I know they do maybe target your family or your friends as well. Or they try to tell them that you are the bad guys. Either you lose more friends, or more people have doubts about who you actually are…


I tried to figure out the process – I gotta get my job back. Clearly this is a technical glitch or something. I wrote my letter, I submitted it. Weeks passed – no response. The deadline to respond was coming – 60 days.


I don’t remember how I came across CLCMA – someone who had donated to them before had told me about them. I reached out to them. I filled out the form. 2-3 days later, Christy called me. I explained the situation to her. She said she needed to bring it to the board. Eventually, it was approved to be taken on.


A few things to note: Agent Truong continued to call me. He went to my house and told my wife, ‘Yeah, me and Lassana were good pals.’ He convinced her to call me and put me on the phone.”


It appeared that the hassles at the airport were likely a form of retaliation for Dr. Magassa’s refusal to work as an informant. Agent Truong was reaching out after the retaliation, expecting Dr. Magassa to ask him for help and presumably offer to become an informant after all.


Contrary to the FBI agent’s expectations, Dr. Magassa was calm and accepting of the situation. He explains it this way: “I have no fears. Death will come. Every soul will taste death. I fear returning to my Creator not having fulfilled what He has placed upon me.”


He told the agent that things were fine. “He expected me to be like, ‘oh, Agent Truong, can you help me? I can’t fly.”


“Then we started going to court. That was a long process. I think it took several years, actually. What was interesting was, they didn’t reply to my letters. Honestly, I felt like the reason they replied to CLCMA was that there was someone with a law degree writing the letter that time. Honestly, I feel like I’m pretty competent and I’m pretty articulate – no reason I can’t represent myself…”


Dr. Magassa was also contacted by the FBI in New York. Again, he thought it might be a job opportunity. Instead, they questioned him about someone he had known in college: “He asked about another guy that I know – I know a lot of people… I know everyone from drug dealers to doctors. My message is the same for everybody, you know – do good – if you’re doing bad, leave that, and go find something better to do. Honestly, I think, having such a diverse range of colleagues and peers and acquaintances actually makes me more conscious and empathetic. It makes me try to be better.”


Years later, Dr. Magassa again applied to work for the airlines, this time through American Airlines: “When I applied for American Airlines, I got hired. I still didn’t have my security clearance. And then, ma sha Allah, I prayed my two rakaats because I had to go in for my fingerprints.


‘O Allah, without you, I’m definitely not going to get my security clearance.’ I thought of Musa (A.S.) standing in front of the water with no options. And just having that tawakkul and that certainty in the power of Allah – I think it’s a difficult thing to accomplish. I think that many of us – myself, especially, we say that we have this tawakkul but our actions don’t always reflect it. I’m always looking to work to get to that space where I have that tawakkul.


The stories of the Prophet (SAW) where he would feed a whole army – which is one plate of food and one vessel of drink – subhanallah. Wow, ma sha Allah, what do I gotta do to get there? And honestly I know what I gotta do, I just gotta do it. I can start by praying my five daily prayers on time, at the very minimum. So, alhamdulilah. That day I went and did my fingerprints. At that point I was still considered not eligible to hold a badge. I still did my fingerprints anyway for the Port of Seattle. Then maybe that afternoon I got a letter in the mail saying, ‘You are no longer considered a security threat, and you are eligible to hold a badge.’ So there’s a happy ending for that.”


“This whole experience was a great learning experience. Now I can empathize with informants or even spies. Many of us hate them because they’re destroying the community, but we don’t actually understand the sort of hardship they are under when they’re doing it. In many cases, they’re not doing it willingly. It’s out of fear – it’s almost always out of fear – fear of being deported… fear of having a prior criminal history.


The thing with these informant positions – once you start being an informant, you must inform. As an FBI agent, if I have a mole on the street. If I pull up, you better have information to share with me. There have been many documented cases where informants start making stuff up.”


“I don’t fear anyone or anything. That doesn’t mean that my life won’t be difficult or hard, or that I don’t fear people. But I don’t fear people more than I fear Allah.


Allah can do anything. Allah does not need me to punish anyone – Allah can do it without me. I am nobody, really. If you want to see change, do what Allah asks, and make dua. Allah will answer your duas. If you have certainty in Allah, He will answer it. If you obey Allah, He will answer it.”



Sources


Lassana Magassa – Technology Policy, Inclusive Research & Design, User Experience

The dreaded SSSS boarding pass: What you need to know about TSA’s enhanced screening tag – The Points Guy

Dr. Magassa. I Have the Right to Know Why – MLFA