Celebrating Women Special Agents: Kathleen McChesney (2012)

Special Agent Kathleen McChesney had a 24-year career with the FBI, working her way up to become special agent in charge of the Chicago Division, assistant director of the Training Division and eventually, the executive assistant director for Law Enforcement Services.

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Clearly there are lots of times being an FBI agent where it’s advantageous to be a woman. Sometimes just making an approach to a witness or potential witness you kind of catch them off guard and that can be a very useful thing in doing a sensitive investigation. I do remember a time when we were doing a kidnapping investigation in San Francisco and the suspect was in the Fairmont Hotel in a room. He was using stolen credit cards and so forth but we had tracked him down. And once he had returned to his room we were surveilling him from the rooms surrounding his room. We were trying to figure out a way to get him to open the door so we didn’t have to take any extreme measures. And so I went to the door as the maid, and I knocked on the door and I engaged him in conversation ‘til I convinced him and it didn’t take very long to convince him that I was the maid. I was there to do the turndown service and he opened the door and he was kind of expecting maybe something more from the turndown service, and we moved in and arrested him. He was totally caught off guard. He was not wearing much either but it worked very, very well. So there are times like that in your career that you can go into a situation where people just aren’t expecting a woman to be there.

When I was in the undercover unit, however, which the undercover unit was part of FBI Headquarters Criminal Investigation Division, there was only one other woman who had come to FBI headquarters at the time that I did. So, yes I was somewhat of a novelty, a lot of people on my first day came to visit the unit to see if I looked different or had two heads or whatever. But I made a lot of wonderful friends that day just because they wanted to see what this was all about. So I was the first woman to come into that unit and work in that operation.

I was the first woman agent to be a supervisor in the Los Angeles office. I was the first to run the resident agency at Redondo Beach and one of the first women field supervisors in the country.

At the time women became first at anything, somebody always took notice. And often it was the women that took notice because we were trying to find our way and make sure that we had the opportunities that men who were agents had. And we did. It was, we competed as they did, we were expected to do the same types of work and hopefully, you know, our standards were as good as anyone else’s.

You hope that when you’re in a position whether it’s as a special agent investigator or as a first-line supervisor or even at the executive assistant director level, you hope that the kinds of things that you do in your job are good modeling experiences for everyone, man or woman. And but I do know that there’s a unique role that women play when they move up into management and more visible positions within the FBI, whether they’re a criminal profiler or SWAT team or legat or whatever it is that they’re doing or they’re doing a major case. There are people that look and observe and want to see like they do with everyone else that they’re doing not just a good job but a great job. The kind of a job that people equate with being in the FBI and what would be expected of an FBI agent.

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