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Former special agent sheds light on what it is really like to be in the FBI

As you sit in front of your TV with the lights dimmed and a bowl of popcorn in your lap, it may seem like there is no job more glamorous and full of adventure than that of an FBI agent.

The work of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been the muse for various forms of entertainment throughout the years. From books to movies to television shows, FBI agents and law enforcement officers have been featured countless times solving mysteries and putting the criminals behind bars.

But it’s a well-known fact that not everything you see on television is true. Although any author, writer or producer can consult with the FBI to improve the accuracy of their presentation, it is not mandatory that they do so, and the FBI does not check their work. While some create relatively realistic portrayals of the bureau, others add in a bit more imagination.

So, what is it actually like working to keep America safe? The answer to this question can only be answered through experience, which is something former FBI Special Agent Timothy Crino has nearly three decades of.

Crino entered the FBI as a Special Agent Accountant. Because of his background in accounting, most of his career was spent investigating white-collar crimes. For many years, he served as the Senior Team Leader of the Buffalo Evidence Response Team (ERT). The ERTs were responsible for all of the FBI crime scene work in the Buffalo Division, and assisted in most of the larger search warrants in the Buffalo Field office of the FBI. The Buffalo ERT also helped various local law enforcement agencies with crime scene investigations and training.

Crino said that while some portrayals of the FBI make him feel proud to have done the job, there are other times where the FBI or its agents are deeply misrepresented in films and TV shows.

“Pre-9/11, it was considered by many, including myself, that the FBI was the greatest law enforcement agency in the world,” he said. “Today the FBI mission has had to change and evolve with the times we live in. Now the FBI can be characterized as one of the finest threat-focused, intelligence-driven organizations in the world.”

A lot goes into making the FBI as strong as it is. In comparison to the millions of law enforcement employees nationwide, the FBI is relatively small, with just over 36,000 employees. What it lacks in numbers, the bureau makes up for in skill. Only the most competent individuals are selected to fill the open positions. The FBI is a place where no talent is wasted, and everyone has a place to showcase their abilities. However, although talent is appreciated and encouraged, an FBI agent is nothing without dedication.

The job is not an easy one. Special agents are always on call, and can be transferred at any time. The FBI website makes this very clear, saying, “This is definitely not a 9-to-5 career.” With every day, new challenges arrive, and so there is no typical day on the job. Agents must carry out a variety of responsibilities, some more exciting than others. Contrary to what the media often depicts, a large part of their time is spent at the office completing files. To Crino, this is the worst part.

“It is never portrayed on TV or in the movies, just how much of the daily professional life of an FBI agent is spent doing paperwork and dealing with administrative requirements,” he said.

And between the hours of paperwork, it is not uncommon for there to be some danger.

“There are, of course, inherent dangers with being in law enforcement,” Crino said. “Making arrests, conducting surveillances in dangerous areas, traveling overseas to investigate crimes committed against United States citizens, all come with a heightened amount of risk.”

Crino said that the most dangerous situation he had found himself in was in Aden, Yemen, investigating the bombings of USS Cole when he was with the ERT.

“During that time, we had guns pointed at us on a daily basis, encountered a bombing attempt at our hotel and had to work regularly under perilous conditions.”

Crino added that although a certain amount of danger is unavoidable, the FBI personnel are kept safe through a combination of well- thought-out plans, the element of surprise and superior numbers of people.

But throughout the danger, long hours and stacks of paperwork, there was another part of the job that had affected Crino more than any other. The bombing, murder and disaster cases he took on have taught him a valuable lesson that we all could learn from.

“Working on matters such as the recovery of bodies after the World Trade Center (attack) the crashes of TWA Flight 800 and Colgan Air Flight 3407, and the murder of Dr. Bernard Slepian and Samantha Zaldivar, really showed me how fragile life can be,” he said.

This is obviously not a job for the timid. Working for the FBI requires strength both mentally and physically to overcome every possible challenge. It’s difficult, but it has to be done, and there are parts of the job that make it all worth it.

“My career was better than I could have ever imagined would be,” Crino said. .

“The mission of the FBI during my years as an agent allowed me to work on some unbelievable investigations, gave me the opportunity to travel the world and really make a difference in people’s lives.

“Secondly, the people I worked with at the FBI are some of the greatest people anyone could ever have the privilege to work with, ” he said.

So if you think that working for the FBI might be in your future, Crino has some advice:

“Get a good education, stay out of trouble, and follow your dream.”

Rachel Valente is a freshman at Kenmore West High School.