James Mollison
James Mollison

9 Real Disguises of the World’s Best Undercover Reporter

James Mollison
James Mollison

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

Anas as a rock, courtesy of James Mollison

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 as a policeman, courtesy of James Mollison

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

Anas' fake baby prop, courtesy of James Mollison

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

Anas as a sheikh, courtesy of James Mollison

8. A Woman

Anas as a woman, courtesy of James Mollison

9. A Homeless Man

Anas as a homeless man, courtesy of James Mollison

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!


nextArticle.image_alt|e
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Unwind With 10 Hours of Soothing Ocean Footage From BBC Earth
iStock
iStock

The internet can be a stressful place at times. Do yourself a favor by taking a break from the endless barrage of content to focus on the tranquil beauty of nature. The video below, spotted by Motherboard, features 10 hours of peaceful oceanscapes, courtesy of BBC Earth.

Unlike BBC's usual nature documentaries, which almost always include narration, this footage is completely human-free. There are no voices, no music, and no graphics. Instead, you'll find leisurely shots of whale sharks, schools of hammerheads, sailfish, and sea turtles drifting through the open ocean to a soundtrack of sloshing water.

Even if you don't have time to watch the whole 10 hours, just a few minutes of sitting in front of the meditative footage is probably enough to refresh your brain. Just don't be surprised if a few minutes quickly becomes an hour (or a few).

And if 10 hours of relaxing video still isn't enough for you, we recommend checking out some Norwegian slow TV. "Shows" include footage of a sea cruise, a train ride, and migrating reindeer.

[h/t Motherboard]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios