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James Mollison

9 Real Disguises of the World’s Best Undercover Reporter

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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!


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Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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Check Out These Images of Last Night's Spectacular Harvest Moon
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Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Each year, a special moon comes calling around the autumnal equinox: the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon—the full moon that falls nearest to the equinox—rises near sunset for several days in a row, making early evenings extra-bright for a few days when farmers traditionally reveled in the extra-long twilight while harvesting their crops at the end of the summer season. And because the moon looks larger and more orange when it's near the horizon, it's particularly spectacular as it rises.

The Harvest Moon
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

October 5 marked 2017’s Harvest Moon, and you may have noticed an extra spectacular sky if you were looking up last night. It's rare for the Harvest Moon to come so late in the year: The last time it came in October was in 2009. (Last year's fell on September 16, 2016.) Here are a few luminous lunar pictures from the event, some of which make the moon look totally unreal:

And if you missed seeing the event yourself, don't worry too much: the moon will still look full for several days.

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7 Throwback Photos of 1980s NYC Subway Graffiti
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In May 1989, after a 15-year-long campaign of slowly eradicating New York City’s subway graffiti train-by-train, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority officially declared the city’s subways graffiti-free. There’s still subway graffiti in New York City today, but now it's confined to rail yards far away from the stations and tunnels. By the time the trains make it back onto the tracks, they’ve been cleaned of any markings.

There was a time, though, when graffiti artists had near-free rein to use the city’s subway trains as their canvases, as much as the transportation agency tried to stop them. A new book of photography, From the Platform 2: More NYC Subway Graffiti, 1983–1989, is an ode to that period.

A photo taken at night shows a subway train tagged

Its authors, Paul and Kenny Cavalieri, are two brothers from the Bronx who began taking photos of subway trains in 1983, during the heyday of New York City's graffiti art era. They themselves were also graffiti artists who went by the names Cav and Key, respectively. (Above is an example of Cav's work from 1988, and below is an example of Key's.) Their book is a visual tribute to their youth, New York's graffiti culture, and their fellow artists.

For anyone who rides the New York City subway today, the images paint a whole different picture of the system. Let yourself be transported back to the '80s in some of these photos: 

A subway car bears tags by
Some of Kenny (Key) Cavalieri's work, circa 1987.

Graffiti on a subway car reads

Blue letters tagged on the exterior of a subway car read “Comet.”

Pink and blue lettering reads “Bio” on the outside of a subway car.

A subway car reads “Pove” in green letters.

The book includes short commentaries and essays from other artists of the period remembering their experiences painting trains. It's a follow-up to Paul Cavalieri’s original 2011 collection From the Platform: Subway Graffiti, 1983-1989. He’s also the author of Under the Bridge: The East 238th Street Graffiti Hall Of Fame, a history of four decades of graffiti in the Bronx.

From the Platform 2 is $30 on Amazon.

[h/t The Guardian]

All images courtesy Paul and Kenny Cavalieri // Schiffer Publishing

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