"What every woman needs are three good pairs of shoes," said a woman who has defied every odd and stereotype assigned to her, while looking down at her callused feet. "Two good pairs of flats and one good pair of high heels."
Cassandra Chandler keeps those three pairs of shoes in her Washington office. The flats are for walking from meeting to meeting in the 1.25 million square feet of the FBI headquarters building, and the high heels are used when she has meetings with the president and the FBI director.
For a person who creates an image in a profession where image is everything, shoes are important.
The FBI is a secret organization by nature, trying to change its image with one woman at the forefront. Chandler, an energetic LSU graduate, is the new face of this agency, coworkers said.
Two books sit on her coffee table in her office, "The Alligator Book," with photography and text by C.C. Lockwood and "While America Slept," by Gerald Posner. These two books show how the Geismar, La., native still has not forgotten her roots while staying realistic about the image she has to create at the FBI.
The Right Fit
Chandler, assistant director for Public Affairs and the FBI's national spokeswoman, is part of a massive reorganization effort started by FBI Director Robert Muller IV.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks there was talk about completely changing the FBI as it is known today. When Chandler became assistant director, she had to tackle this issue head-on.
"One of the key issues for us last year was this MI5 issue," said Charles Prouty, executive assistant director for the FBI's law enforcement services division.
The United Kingdom's MI5 is the defense security intelligence agency for the country.
The MI5 proposal would split the FBI into two entities, one dealing with criminal investigations and the other gathering intelligence like the MI5 in England, Prouty said.
"It doesn't work all that well in the UK, and we think it'd be a huge mistake," he said. "She's [Chandler] been able to give good talking points, has worked that topic very well and has provided good information in that field so we can also work it out there. She's good at doing that type of thing."
For so long, media were allowed bare-bones access to information concerning the FBI, but when Chandler took her position as the national spokeswoman, the media began to get access to the secrecy.
"Director Muller is not exactly Mr. Press," said Toni Locy, a USA Today reporter who covers the FBI. "He does have an understanding though. They [the FBI] were criticized so much after Sept. 11."
From a journalistic perspective, Locy said she thinks the Bureau cannot continue to "do business like they used to with the press, or they won't survive."
She said the agency had to become more open after Sept. 11 and attributes the positive moves in the FBI's "press shop" to Muller and Chandler.
James Meek, a reporter with the New York Daily News who covers the FBI said, "Cassie is something that the FBI traditionally has never really been. She is charming and accessible, and she is really trying to change not only the perception of the FBI, but [the FBI] as an agency."
The nature of the organization is secret, Meek said. There is constant tension between wanting information and getting it.
When Chandler did a briefing on counter- terrorism on the record and on camera, Meek said TV networks were "tripping on themselves thanking Cassie."
He said Chandler has put a more human face on an agency that strives to be serious. When people show their badge it means something, Meek said.
"It's not just intimidation, but those people are taken seriously because it's the most elite law enforcement agency on the planet," he said. "Nothing she's doing is taking away from that."
He gives her credit for the changes he has seen so far and hopes the changes continue.
"The media can get burned," Meek said. "Many times in history the relationship between the FBI and the media sucked."
The agency still is secretive, but now it has more control of the information and the messages it lets out.
"She's come up with ideas about briefing all our executives across the country and creating talking points so when they're out there in front of the media, they're able to address the key issues," Prouty said.
Specifically, Chandler decided to unite the FBI's message through all 56 field offices across the country.
During one of the strategic field office "roll out" meetings, Chandler mixed her sense of humor with her "get down to business" attitude to come up with an informative show for the upcoming field office meetings.
"I want the presentation to be fun, entertaining and glossy," Chandler said to her presentation team.
"Each field office hasn't been telling its own people what we've been doing, so we're boosting their morale," Chandler said.
In regards to the MI5 issue, Chandler said her strategy is a "roll out and a blitz," which consists of not only telling everyone within the agency what their stance is on the issue, but informing the world "why the FBI is the best domestic intelligence agency."
To make her message effective, she told her graphic artist to satirize the size of the new FBI laboratory.
She suggested he start with a small picture of the lab and increase its size with each note in composer Richard Strauss', "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," the opening song for the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" until the lab is supersized.
With this type of humor, Chandler does not come across as having the stereotypical personality of an FBI executive. But her personality is custom fit for her position. With a background in broadcast television, Chandler has a natural charisma with people and a great presence in front of a room full of reporters or in the face of a television camera. Co-workers said she always has been a people-person, which she uses in her management style to have effective relationships.
The Class Clown
Not only is this woman a clean-cut FBI executive, but her classmates and professors remember her as a class cut-up in high school and college.
She won a plethora of awards her senior year at East Ascension High School in Gonzales, La., because of her immense popularity among classmates.
She was Miss East Ascension in 1976, a Homecoming maid, was part of the groups named Most School Spirit, Most Likely to Succeed, Most Talented, Most Popular, Wittiest, Most Mischievous and Most Dependable.
Lisa Babin, a pastoral associate at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Prairieville, La., was a grade below Chandler in high school.
"She had an air of confidence about her. It doesn't surprise me that she's gone so far," Babin said. "We went through segregation as children, so things were still separate. For her to be so popular was strange during that time. She was the type of girl I wanted to be like. I was shy and hung back and not involved. Girls like me envied her."
Jules A. D'Hemecourt IV, a mass communication instructor at LSU, taught an independent study radio news course and remembers her being "very, very good." He would then take the top 10 percent of the course and name them assistant news directors for KLSU.
"She's sharp, but can have a Southern woman side," he said. "You never know where hot shots will end up."
The Road Less Traveled
Chandler started out with an unconventional route to becoming a federal agent. After graduating from LSU with bachelor's degrees in journalism and English, she obtained her juris doctorate from Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans and became a member of the Louisiana Bar Association.
While in law school, she got a job at the CBS affiliate in New Orleans, WWL-TV Channel 4. It was there, working as an intern assisting a producer, that an out-of-the-ordinary turn of events began her career in law enforcement, Chandler said.
One night she was answering phones and a man who was a fugitive wanted for murdering a teller in Washington, called. He said he had killed the teller accidentally during a bank robbery but was afraid to turn himself in.
He was afraid if he turned himself in without the media being present, the police would kill him, Chandler said. She recalls talking to him for about 10 minutes and then asked her producer what to do.
Since it was 15 minutes until the newscast, she said the producer "just blew it off and said, 'just call the FBI.'"
Chandler then proceeded to call the FBI and was as impressed with its response as the Bureau was of hers. From that point on, the FBI recruited her heavily.
Before that she said she had never considered a career in the FBI.
"I'm certainly very happy I made that decision now, and I was very much impressed. The agents who came out to interview me and subsequently the FBI sent their local recruiter, Clifford Anderson, out to recruit me, and they continued," she said.
After the FBI recruited her during her last two years of law school, she failed to show up for an interview she scheduled with the FBI. She got out of being banned from all future interviews at Loyola because she called and apologized, she said.
"I had something else going on so I didn't show up. Of course I feel bad about that," Chandler said.
After apologizing, she had her interview. Little did she know that she was going to meet her husband after that interview.
Not the Usual Suspect
Since her husband Carl Chandler had experience in radio and she in broadcast, he was chosen to convince her why the FBI would be the right career path for her if she was successful in her interview - which she was, he said.
"I was floored by her good looks, so I was more than willing to give her a dose about the FBI," he said.
They met in January 1984, had their first date on May 1, he asked her to marry him in July and on Sept. 15, 1984, they were married, he said.
He volunteered to do her background check and said their relationship was strictly professional in the beginning. However, once he realized his feelings for her, he turned her case over to someone else.
After working in the New Orleans Field Office, they moved to Los Angeles where their son, Wyatt, was born. Then they went to Washington, at headquarters, and later both decided to apply for jobs in San Diego.
In San Diego, there were two job openings, one of which was tailor-made for her - a health care program. She headed up the health care program at the D.C. headquarters, he said.
"When a field office saw that, there was no competition," he said. "I was up for a position in white collar crime. I would be dealing with things like Enron, but I actually worked on the original Governor Edward's case."
Early on in their marriage, they agreed that if one got a particular job in management, the other would step out and wait, they both said.
"I became a street agent doing criminal work in San Diego," he said. "She had more on the ball than I did."
From San Diego, they moved to San Francisco and back to Washington, where he retired from the FBI this past June, he said.
Carl Chandler said they have mutual respect in their marriage, and their career situations have been reversed throughout their marriage.
But roles traditionally set aside for women have not been observed by Chandler for her entire life. Raised by a single mother who worked and taught her to be independent, she brought all of her unexpected characteristics to her job at the FBI.
It is her untraditional style that has made her successful at moving through the ranks at the FBI. It even extends into her family life.
"We had a young 4-year-old son in day care; her hours were longer and more irregular than mine, so I picked up our child at day care and cooked dinner. And I enjoyed doing it," he said.
Carl Chandler said she has all the qualities and attributes to be a successful manager along with being an attorney, which is a big advantage in the FBI, he said.
"Now, she is the highest ranking African-American woman in the FBI, being the first black assistant director," he said.
As of Oct. 31, 2003, there are a total of 11,813 special agents in the FBI; 2,164 total female agents; 1,805 total white female agents; 1,958 total minority agents; 643 total black agents; and 127 total black female agents, which is Chandler's category.
Just Another FBI Agent
Her day begins at 5 a.m., when the 46-year-old mother of a 14-year-old son wakes up to exercise before heading over to the FBI Headquarters in the heart of downtown Washington.
After she reviews the morning news and picks the topics appropriate to show Director Muller, she puts on her high-heeled shoes and heads over for her morning briefing with the director.
The rest of her day is packed with meetings about current issues and about ways to make the common citizen feel involved in the process of the FBI, she said.
Her job still has some kinks in it, partially from the director's latest reorganization efforts.
Mike Kortan, section chief for the Office of Public Affairs said, "As far as my difference from her [Chandler]; I think we're still trying to determine that."
Kortan, whose office adjoins Chandler's, said his job was created as a position higher than the press office that could deal with upper-level journalists on more sensitive, high-profile stories. He also has his hand in administrative affairs for the division, so his job is two-fold.
Kortan was assistant director for Congressional Media, which was a bigger division than Public Affairs, so "it was clear that the top person there had a good portfolio," he said.
"I think now that we're all Public Affairs, and she and I essentially oversee the same entity, I think we're finding our respective roles," he said.
Along with her innovative media strategy ideas, Chandler also has re-organized the entire Office of Public Affairs.
Bobbi Wallace, unit chief for the Community Relations unit said, "She's really taken us in OPA to the next level."
Wallace also pointed out that there were no strategies on implementing marketing plans before Chandler.
"We just took whatever the operational division gave us and tried to tweak it into something and do the best we could," Wallace said. "But now, we actually develop the plan. We go to them for the expertise, and we develop the plan and the timeline for the roll out. We decide when the best time is to roll out and how it should be best received by the general public."
Established as a way to get the average citizen involved in catching wanted criminals, the FBI teamed up with the television show, "America's Most Wanted" 16 years ago.
Steve Katz, supervising producer of the show, said the show has helped the FBI catch about 16 criminals on the Top Ten Most Wanted list, which was created by Rex Tomb.
Katz was impressed with Chandler initially when she first became assistant director. She was the first assistant director to come to his office and ask him what the FBI needed to do to make the relationship between "America's Most Wanted" and the FBI better, he said.
"One thing I like about her is she doesn't want to be in that job, she wants to be out in the field arresting people, creating justice and making the world a safer place," Katz said. "That's why she's so good at at her job because she actually understands what the people she's asking to do stuff are going through, and no one can say to her, 'You don't know what you're talking about.' She can say, 'You tell me what I don't understand.'" It is her varied experience inside and outside the Bureau that made her a good fit for her current position, a former coworker said.
One of Chandler's former coworkers thinks she is best suited for her current job dealing with the media rather than her old job with the assistant director for the FBI Training Academy.
"I think Cassandra is doing what she is best at right now. I think she's extraordinary in her ability to deal with media issues and national image," said Mike Ferrance Jr., unit chief for health care fraud. "I think with her education and her experience base she's making a better contribution doing that than what she was doing here. That doesn't mean she wasn't effective here, but the issue here is that with everything there's a learning curve."
Ferrance said Chandler brought experience with supervising, managing and leading investigative operations to the training division, but may not have had the background and the context for running an education training facility.
Not everyone at the Academy shared the same feelings. She brought a fresh new look to the FBI Academy and instilled a sense of respect for the grounds, said Alan A. Malinchak, unit chief for the Investigative Training Unit.
Shortly after her arrival at the Academy, Chandler asked Malinchak to step down from Investigative Training and become the acting section chief for Facilities and Security Management for the entire FBI Academy complex.
"Her main mission for me was to get a focus on the lack of maintenance accomplishments and to bring the academy and the physical grounds, plant and security up to 2002 standards, which had fallen off over the years because of budgetary reasons," Malinchak said.
Within five months, he and his team brought the grounds back to acceptable standards, which pleased Chandler, he said.
"One of the things she said about me, which gives you a perspective of her leadership style, is she would constantly refer to me as 'Bulldog' or 'Mad dog,'" Malinchak said. "That's because I had a reputation that I do not tolerate fools, and I do not tolerate incompetence very well. So what had transpired over the years is a lot of incompetent fool-hearted people had been in charge, and I fixed that within five months. So then I went back to being the chief of Investigative Training."
On of the things Malinchak said he thinks is one of Chandler's positive traits as a manager is being able to recognize and capitalize on people's particular personality traits.
"Sometimes she would say, 'You know you really need to develop your personal ability,'" he said. "It was a love/hate relationship. She wanted me to kick butt and take names but she also wanted me to be gentle and sensitive. I explained to her that, 'You have your choice. If you kick butt and take names and those people produce then I'll be gentle and sensitive to those people who produce.'"
Malinchak said Chandler is a no-nonsense leader and "doesn't suffer fools gladly either." He said she is forthright, honest and to the point. Chandler also delegates very well, and has no problem being a micro-manager, Malinchak said.
One of the things he admits is he thinks image is everything, and he thinks Chandler has the proper physically fit, professional image of an FBI agent and national spokesperson.
He thinks of women the same way he thinks about everyone else, including minorities and men, Malinchak said.
"If you do the job and you're competent then go for it. If you're joining the FBI or staying in the FBI to be a mooch or a slug, or to take advantage of your government job, then I will do everything in my power to make your life so you would choose to leave the FBI."
Spokesperson, Role Model, Mentor
Bobbi Wallace, a fellow black woman in management, sees a different picture of Chandler.
"Oh, it's rough. It's got to be rough on her. People were constantly looking at me," Wallace said. "When other people do things wrong it's, 'OK, you did it wrong.' But when [I do] something wrong it could hinder someone else's ability to move up to the next level."
For Wallace, Chandler has clearly broken the glass ceiling for black women in the positions of section chief and assistant director - the third- highest rank in the FBI.
"She's not only a good spokesperson, she's a good role model, she's a good mentor," Wallace said. "She doesn't just mentor females, she mentors males and females, black and white, Hispanic, whomever. If she sees that work ethic in you, she really supports and pushes you, and if she doesn't, she calls you in and she tries to motivate you to get it. She's there for everyone."
Chandler even said she will sometimes listen to "conspiracy theorists" who like to believe what happens in the TV show "The X-Files" is real. Although she said she just rolls her eyes and thanks them for calling most of the time.
"Sometimes you have to listen to some of them because you never know when something they say might make sense," Chandler said.
Image Is Everything
This idea of accepting everyone and attempting to get along with everyone extends to her high school days, according to her mother.
Chandler attributes much of her success to the values and strong support of her mother, Ophelia McWilliams.
McWilliams said in high school, Chandler was always hanging out with "those girls."
"She was a cheerleader, and she'd call me to come pick her up at her friend's house and I'd think, 'What's this girl doing over her with her white buddies?'"
"I have two girls," McWilliams said. "One would cook, and one would keep the house clean. When I'd get home at 6 p.m., my dinner was cooked and my house was clean. You have to have something to start with and have to be able to fall back on something."
When asked about her success in the FBI, Chandler said, "You will always find that there are always people who naturally progress in that way. I think it comes from your background as a child, the way you were brought up and the way you were taught."
Chandler came from a family where her mother and father divorced when she was very young. As a single parent her mother raised three children, Chandler said.
"I was the last of the three, and she always encouraged us to be whatever we wanted to be," Chandler said. "She pushed 'read, read, read as much as you can' very heavily."
McWilliams never completed college, was single, had three children and still ended up developing her own business and working in various other areas, Chandler said.
"She always demonstrated to us how important independence as a woman, the capabilities and the competence of a woman are," Chandler said. "My mother is independent, has strong moral values, is very focused in the Church and was unafraid to take a chance. Those were the values I took with me throughout my various careers and into the FBI, and I think that's served me well."
Today, Chandler does not see herself as a black woman breaking the glass ceiling in the FBI as Wallace does. She sees herself as an FBI agent, as Malinchak does.
"I think it's how we perceive ourselves. I've always perceived that I was as strong as anyone else, male or female, as competent as anyone else, as intelligent as anyone else, as thoughtful as anyone else, and as capable as anyone else. So you're just the image you present, and people believe that image," Chandler said. "So, if you walk into a room with an air of self-confidence, people will respect you as an individual with confidence. And they treat you accordingly."