9 Real Disguises of the World’s Best Undercover Reporter
by Joe Pompeo
Few people can tell you what Ghanaian super-sleuth reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas looks like. “I’m sorry,” he apologized to an audience during a 2013 TED talk, speaking through a mask. “I cannot show you my face. If I do, the bad guys will come at me.” Those bad guys are numerous: For over a decade, the internationally-acclaimed journalist has made it his mission to expose all stripes of criminals, from seedy outlaws to crooked cops to rotten public servants. What’s more incredible is how he’s done it—with inventive ruses and elaborate disguises that make James Bond’s adventures seem snoozy by comparison. We’ve collected a few of his most memorable busts, along with tips on how he pulled them off, here.
1. A Peanut Hawker
After earning his degree from the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Anas landed a gig at The Crusading Guide newspaper in 1999. His first scoop stemmed from a simple question: If street hawking is illegal in the city of Accra, why was it so rampant along one of its busiest motorways? The answer lay in a popular peanut snack called Nkatie Burger. Anas posed as a hawker, hustling the treat to motorists stuck in traffic. In the process, he learned that cops were taking bribes from the hawkers. After seven days of reporting, he had his proof, and his story. At TED, he reflected on that first assignment. “I thought that I should do it in a different way,” he said, “so that it has maximum impact.” The statement more or less sums up his career.
2. A Rock
Of Anas’s many faces, there’s one in which he doesn’t have a face at all—just two small eyeholes cut into what looks like an enormous, crinkled paper bag. Silly? Maybe. But his impression of a giant rock is also effective: In 2010, Anas used the disguise near a border post at the Ghana-Côte d’Ivoire crossing to spy on trucks from the roadside. As it turned out, the trucks were smuggling cocoa beans across the border. Anas’s report helped the police build a rock-solid case.
3. A Cop
Anas is known to collaborate with police (a method that would make his journalism controversial by American standards). He’s also been known to impersonate them. When he went after customs corruption at Ghana’s Port of Tema, he dressed in a dark blue uniform with pants tucked into combat boots, a walkie-talkie, and aviator sunglasses. Anas played the part perfectly, witnessing how customs officers were aiding the smugglers inside the nation’s leading seaport. The report led officials to recover $200 million in lost state funds.
4. A Parent with a (Fake) Baby
Some communities in Ghana believe that deformed or disabled children are possessed by evil spirits. The families of these “spirit children,” seek out “concoction men” to diagnose the so-called evil lurking within. In cases where the evil is “confirmed,” they brew poison, force feed it to the children, and kill them. Anas hired one such concoction man to kill a fictitious child. To assist with the reporting, one of Anas’s colleagues agreed to let him use her 18-month-old son as a stand-in. A concoction man examined the boy, and, at the last minute, Anas swapped the human baby out for a dummy. The simulacra was made by a London-based movie props company. It was so lifelike, the concoction man didn’t realize he was being handed a fleshy slab of silicone. The next thing on his hands? Cuffs.
5. An Assembly Line Worker
One of Anas’s hits, in 2006, took him into a cookie factory in Accra, where he posed as an assembly line worker to expose the filthy conditions there. It was a stomach-turning assignment, and his signature hidden cameras caught it all. As a story in Africa’s ZAM magazine put it, Anas filmed “rats roaming freely in and around the food.” He also got shots of the cookie company using flour that was infested with maggots and termites. Most important, he got results: The factory was shut down.
6. An Oil Rig Worker
Sometime around the beginning of 2014, Anas got a tip from Interpol about missing Vietnamese women sold into sex trafficking. Enter John Sullivan, an American oil rig worker (who was actually Anas in disguise). Along with an Arab colleague masked as a Jordanian oil magnate, “Sullivan” sought services from the women. Once he got their pimps to offer them up, the police hiding nearby swooped in. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese nationals behind the prostitution ring were arrested.
7. A Sheikh
8. A Woman
9. A Homeless Man
This story was excerpted from a longer story on Anas in the upcoming print edition of mental_floss. Be sure to click here to subscribe!