by Pamela M. McBride
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF FBI IS A BLACK WOMAN:
The year 2002 was a very good year for Cassandra M. Chandler. Last February, she was appointed an Assistant Director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation making her the first African-American woman to preside over the Training Division in the FBI Academy's 30-year existence, and the highest-ranking African American at the Bureau. Would you believe that she never even thought about having a career in law enforcement? "I'd always dreamed of going into law, but I had never thought about law enforcement as being the component that I would move towards. All my childhood, I planned to be an attorney," said Chandler, who earned her Juris Doctorate from the Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans.
Chandler's plan to reach that goal was a solid one. Instead of taking pre-law, which would have required her to immediately go to law school, Chandler earned a dual degree in English and journalism from Louisiana State University. "I was able to combine the writing skills I got from English and the analytical skills from Journalism to get a good foundation for law. Plus, with that background, I knew I could work and pay for law school at the same time."
Shortly after receiving her bachelor's degree in 1979, Chandler worked as a television news anchor, reporter, and talk show host. She returned to law school four years later, still on track for fulfilling her childhood dream. While preparing for the evening news, the first year law student took a call from a fugitive who had robbed a bank in Washington, D.C. and was hiding out in the French Quarter. She reported the call to the FBI and when the agent who was assigned to the case came to interview her about the call, he also piqued her interest in the possibility of a career there. "After having talked to the agent, I realized it could be a very exciting career. I was very fortunate that the recruiter maintained contact with me over the next two years to keep me apprised of the process and to keep me interested and motivated. By the time I graduated from law school, there wasn't any doubt that I was going into the FBI," Chandler asserted.
Chandler began her investigative career as a special agent in January 1985 in the New Orleans field office and later moved to the Los Angeles field office. She investigated white-collar crimes, violent crimes, and civil rights violations. "Honestly, I cannot think of the job ever being dull from the moment I entered. I went out on drug arrests; assisted the swat team once, even worked part of a child kidnapping case and a post office shooting. There were just so many different things I did in the first few years of being an agent, it was nonstop excitement for me."
Her ascension through the ranks was nonstop, too. After being promoted in 1991 to supervisory special agent in the Legal Counsel Division at the FBI headquarters and practicing law there for nearly two years, she realized that something was missing. "Despite all my work in the law and that longtime dream of the law, I really enjoyed criminal work. I needed the excitement of being out there and analyzing the situations and interviewing people and making the arrests, and trying to figure out that little tidbit of information that makes a case." And so, Chandler moved back over to criminal work and supervised a team of agents in healthcare fraud and white-collar crimes at the time when the FBI's Healthcare Fraud Program was really just starting up. By 1997, she became the FBI's first African-American female assistant special agent in charge and was promoted again in April 2000 to the position of section chief in the Investigative Services Division. While there, she made it a priority to strengthen the FBI's analytical capabilities with regard to criminal and domestic terrorism issues. Little did she know that the need for such capabilities would soon greatly intensify, and that she would have a key role in meeting it.
Just five months after the September 11th tragedy, Chandler's designation as the assistant director of the FBI's Training Division would require her to enhance the analytical capabilities of every FBI employee. Sitting at the helm of one of the world's premier law enforcement institutions of higher learning, she develops all training plans, curricula and programs for new FBI employees, and the continuing education for existing employees. Chandler is also responsible for conducting advanced training for thousands of state, local and international law enforcement agencies. And she insists that this job is just as thrilling as her others, but in a different way. "What is really exciting to me now is developing the basic foundation of everything the FBI is going to be in the future. I have the opportunity to leave an imprint on the minds and in the hearts of new agents who come through the FBI. And, I get a chance to see the new instruments that we are using in the field, and the new ways of investigating terrorism and determining how to prevent it. It's an exciting time, and I'm a part of it," Chandler remarked.
Many of Chandler's current projects are part of an initiative to combine technology and training in order to provide more sophisticated and more accessible learning opportunities to law enforcement personnel. Examples include using distance-learning tools such as Web-based training on mobile terminals and upgrading the Academy's technology in order to transform it into a virtual one. She also plans to expand the Academy's college accreditation and looks forward to the possibility of the Academy's Library becoming a primary law enforcement research center internationally.
But, as with any job, there are challenges, too. "We are working to develop sufficient counter-terrorism prevention training as quickly as we can to fill so many needs. It's not just the needs of the FBI and FBI employees, there's also a hunger and a need for more counter-terrorism training among state, local and international law enforcement agencies. And we are moving as fast as we can to bridge the gap," states Chandler.
Another challenge is diversifying the force. "We are not seeing enough African-American men and women coming through the doors. We've had far fewer applying than we've had in the past. This is a time when we have stepped up our recruitment efforts because a lot of people are reaching for the same candidates out there, so we want to get the word out that we are hiring. The FBI is definitely interested in men and women in the African-American community," maintains Chandler.
Regardless of their majors, African-American collegians who are exploring career options will be pleasantly surprised to learn about the vast array of job opportunities available at www.fbijobs.gov. For starters, there are four different internship programs for undergraduate and graduate students. They are: The Honors Internship Program; The National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime Internship; the Presidential Management Internship Program; and the FBI Academy Internship. Further-more, according to Chandler, there are about 600 job series in the FBI, so there is a good chance of finding something that interests you. Most of the 28,000 FBI jobs fall into one of two major categories: special agent and non-special agent. Special agent jobs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree and a minimum of three years of full-time work experience (inside or outside the FBI) before they can be considered for acceptance into the academy for 16 weeks of intensive training. Non-special agent jobs, also called support jobs, basically refer to other professional, administrative, technical and clerical positions that do not require completion of the academy. Some of them include engineers, computer specialists, physicists, chemists, biologists, attorneys, accountants, intelligence researchers, linguists (Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Farsi, Pashtu, Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Vietnamese), photographers, nurses and many more.
"Once you get in, there are a lot of wonderful opportunities to do a lot of different things, from being a bomb technician or evidence collection person, to being a white- collar crime investigator, or an organized crime investigator, to handling child pornography over the Internet, to being a cyber crime person going after (computer) hackers. And, we're in foreign countries all over the world. It's just a wonderful career," Chandler adds.
Although Chandler is proud of achieving many "firsts" for African Americans at the FBI, she also hopes that one day soon, she will be joined by many other minorities as colleagues. "I'd love to see more African Americans come through these doors and become a part of this family. There's a lot we have to contribute and there's so much we can do for our community. It's time," asserts Chandler.