the grayzone top 12 stories of 2020

Top 12 The Grayzone stories of 2020: From Assange persecution to Bolivia coup defeat, corporate war on free speech to OPCW cover-up

2020 was a chaotic year for the planet. While the Covid-19 pandemic dominated global politics, The Grayzone continued shining a light on the machinations of empire, from the persecution of imprisoned journalist Julian Assange to the defeat of a US-backed coup regime in Bolivia, from the growing corporate war on free speech to the OPCW’s scandalous Syria cover-up.

Throughout the year, The Grayzone’s website had more than 5.24 million views and 2.48 million unique visitors. Our small, independently funded team of journalists published nearly 300 reports, filing on-the-ground dispatches from Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia.

These are our top 12 stories from 2020.

(Read the top 20 The Grayzone stories of 2019 here.)

1. Documenting state persecution of imprisoned journalist Julian Assange

The Grayzone editor-in-chief Max Blumenthal published a series of exclusive reports on imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, some of which were brought up by the defense in the UK extradition case against the Australian journalist.

Blumenthal exposed the role of the security team of billionaire Republican Party mega-donor Sheldon Adelson in an apparent CIA spying operation targeting Assange when he had asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London.

‘The American friends’: New court files expose Sheldon Adelson’s security team in US spy operation against Julian Assange

Blumenthal’s reporting helped lead to further developments in the case, including a Spanish judge’s formal request to probe Adelson’s security chief in the CIA spying on Assange.

Exclusive: Spanish judge seeks Sheldon Adelson security chief in Assange spying case

Even more scandalously, Blumenthal showed how a CIA contractor spied on US journalists that reported on Assange — and how the intelligence agency-friendly media personalities did absolutely nothing to defend their rights.

Mainstream US reporters silent about being spied on by apparent CIA contractor that targeted Assange

The Grayzone also obtained and published exclusive photographs surreptitiously taken inside a British courtroom showing the undemocratic, dystopian conditions that Assange was being held in during his extradition hearing.

Exclusive images from inside British court expose Assange’s un-democratic treatment, physical deterioration

2. Debunking deceptions behind the new cold war on China

If there was another story that captured headlines in 2020 as much as the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the US government-led cold war on China.

The Grayzone published a series of reports, which continued on the base established by The Grayzone’s 2019 investigations, showing how intelligence agencies fueled anti-China myths that became dominant in Western politics and culture.

How a Trump media dump mainstreamed Chinese lab coronavirus conspiracy theory

Max Blumenthal exposed the Western media’s favorite ‘Hong Kong’ activist to actually be a white American regime-change operative with a history in the human rights industry.

Western media’s favorite Hong Kong ‘freedom struggle writer’ is American ex-Amnesty staffer in yellowface

The Grayzone contributor Ajit Singh showed how the Donald Trump administration spread conspiracy theories to blame China for the novel coronavirus and deflect from its own failures at home.

US pushes conspiracy theory on China’s coronavirus death toll to deflect from Trump administration failures

Singh documented how these anti-Beijing rumors are churned out of highly partisan Western think tanks funded to the hilt by Washington, NATO member states, and the weapons industry.

‘Forced labor’ stories on China brought to you by US gov, NATO, arms industry to drive Cold War PR blitz

A key part of this anti-China disinformation campaign was unsubstantiated accusations made about the country’s Uighur community. Singh showed how the US government pours millions of dollars into the coffers of extremist separatist groups like the World Uyghur Congress to turn up the heat internationally on Beijing.

Inside the World Uyghur Congress: The US-backed right-wing regime-change network seeking the ‘fall of China’

3. Exposing OPCW’s Syria cover-up and state-funded actors assisting it

In a series of exclusive reports by Aaron Maté, The Grayzone exposed corruption in global chemical watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the body’s manipulation and cover-up of an investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria in April 2018.

In February, we revealed a chilling email from a former senior OPCW official who warned of a climate of intimidation against dissenting inspectors, and also published the leaked UN testimony of one of the dissenting inspectors on the Douma mission, Ian Henderson.

Exclusive: New leaks shatter OPCW’s attacks on Douma whistleblowers

In March, we published leaked letters from both Henderson and the other known dissenting inspector, Brendan Whelan (“Inspector B”), responding to the OPCW’s public attacks on them.

Exclusive: OPCW whistleblowers confront leadership’s attacks, cover-up of Douma deception

Also in March, we published a statement provided to The Grayzone by an anonymous OPCW official who came forward to voice alarm at the Douma cover-up. This official denounced the “abhorrent mistreatment” of the two dissenting inspectors, and also warned of a climate of intimidation designed to keep other staffers “frightened into silence.”

Exclusive: New OPCW whistleblower slams ‘abhorrent mistreatment’ of Douma investigators

In May, we revealed that OPCW Director General Fernando Arias had made false claims about dissenting inspector Ian Henderson in a bid to minimize his role in the Douma probe. Leaked documents obtained by The Grayzone undermined Arias’ claims that Henderson “was not a member” of the Douma investigative team and only played a “minor supporting role.”

Exclusive: OPCW chief made false claims to denigrate Douma whistleblower, documents reveal 

In September, Aaron Maté testified about the OPCW cover-up in a session of the United Nations Security Council. In his remarks, Maté called the scandal “one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory” and urged the UN and OPCW to let the dissenting inspectors air their concerns.

The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté testifies at UN on OPCW Syria cover-up

In October, the US, UK, and France took the extraordinary step of blocking the UN testimony of José Bustani, the OPCW’s first director general. Bustani had come to speak out in support of the inspectors. After the unprecedented censorship of the veteran diplomat, The Grayzone published his suppressed remarks. Shortly after, Bustani gave an exclusive interview to Aaron Maté on Pushback in which he praised the inspectors, criticized the OPCW cover-up, and revealed that he had been spied on during the lead-up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Ex-OPCW chief Jose Bustani reads Syria testimony that US, UK blocked at UN

In another exclusive, renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky made his first public remarks on the OPCW scandal in an interview on Pushback. “What happened certainly arouses very severe suspicions… The United States and its allies want the evidence provided by some of the top inspectors to be banned,” Chomsky said. “And the OPCW is capitulating to this, which is pretty shocking.”

Chomsky: OPCW cover-up of Syria probe is ‘shocking’

Also in October, The Grayzone exposed a hoax by Bellingcat, the NATO member state-funded website. Bellingcat attempted to denigrate OPCW inspector Brendan Whelan — and whitewash the cover-up he challenged — by publishing part of a letter that it claimed was sent to Whelan. Bellingcat asserted that the letter undermined Whelan’s concerns, and suggested that both he and The Grayzone had kept it from the public. In reality, the letter that Bellingcat claimed was sent to Whelan was never actually sent. It also contained ludicrous assertions. In exposing Bellingcat’s hoax, The Grayzone exclusively published the actual OPCW letter that Whelan was sent — as well as Whelan’s initial letter to the OPCW, which detailed concerns that have yet to be addressed.

In November, we sent, and published, a series of questions to the BBC over a falsehood-ridden podcast that it aired. The 10-part series, Mayday, attempted to whitewash the White Helmets and the OPCW’s Douma cover-up. Despite initially agreeing to, the BBC has yet to provide answers.

Finally, The Grayzone closed the year with another exclusive report that showed that OPCW executives privately criticized the manipulation of a Syria chemical weapons probe, and supported dissenting inspector Brendan Whelan’s efforts to challenge the cover-up. One official, however, feared helping the “Russian narrative.” The report also provided new details on how other senior officials carried out the cover-up.

OPCW executives praised whistleblower and criticized Syria cover-up, leaks reveal

4. Pushing back against war on free speech waged by US national security state and Big Tech

Throughout 2020, The Grayzone documented how Big Tech corporations worked closer and closer with US intelligence agencies to censor voices, both in the United States and abroad, that challenged Washington’s interventionist narratives.

Under US pressure, social media companies censor critical content and suspend Venezuelan, Iranian, and Syrian accounts

The Grayzone contributor Gareth Porter showed how the FBI waged a campaign to destroy an independent news website in the name of protecting “national security.”

FBI launches open attack on ‘foreign’ alternative media outlets challenging US foreign policy

Hawkish Western government-funded think tanks targeted The Grayzone in their censorial disinformation campaign, as contributor Alexander Rubinstein reported.

State-backed Alliance for Securing Democracy disinfo shop falsely smears The Grayzone as ‘state-backed’

Ben Norton documented how the US government’s regime-change arm the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA cutout, has waged a full-frontal attack on independent journalists, including those at The Grayzone, who expose Western regime-change operations.

US govt-funded Coda Story smears American journalists who undermine new Cold War propaganda

Norton also showed how the leader of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team for the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Richard Stengel, urged the government to use propaganda against its “own population” and called to “rethink” the First Amendment.

Biden state media appointee advocated using propaganda against Americans and ‘rethinking’ First Amendment

The Grayzone likewise documented how editing on the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia was largely taken over by politically motivated Western regime-change advocates, who have used the platform to censor facts and viewpoints that diverge from the Washington Consensus.

Wikipedia formally censors The Grayzone as regime-change advocates monopolize editing

The top officials who help run Wikipedia are deeply linked to US government regime-change organizations, we showed.

Meet Wikipedia’s Ayn Rand-loving founder and Wikimedia Foundation’s regime-change operative CEO

5. Showing Bolivia’s democratic victory against a US-backed coup regime

Despite intense Covid-19 restrictions, The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal, Anya Parampil, and Ben Norton managed to travel to Bolivia in October to report on the repression of the US-backed coup regime, and its historic loss in national elections.

We documented the crimes committed by the junta, producing an original documentary featuring family members of the victims of the notorious Senkata massacre.

Survivors of Bolivia coup massacre cry out for justice – A Grayzone original documentary

We also traveled to the rural Cochabamba region to meet Patricia Arce, a leader from Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party who was publicly tortured and humiliated during the November 2019 coup.

How Bolivia’s new socialist senator resisted coup terror: Meet MAS party leader Patricia Arce

We similarly shined a light on the authoritarian crackdown by the Bolivian coup regime on the eve of the election.

Bolivia militarizes on election eve: Dispatch from the capital La Paz

The Bolivian dictatorship repeatedly threatened international election observers, including The Grayzone reporters when we were in the country.

Unelected Bolivian govt detains, doxxes, threatens international observers on eve of election

6. Revealing massive Western government-backed Syria disinformation operation

The Grayzone’s Ben Norton obtained a cache of leaked UK Foreign Office documents showing how Western governments ran a massive propaganda operation as part of its proxy war on Syria.

The materials reveal how every aspect of the Syrian opposition was cultivated and marketed by Western government-backed public relations firms, and how international media coverage of the conflict was heavily influenced, distorted, and even created by these contractors themselves.

Leaked docs expose massive Syria propaganda operation waged by Western govt contractors and media

Max Blumenthal similarly showed how a disinformation campaign backed by the US government and the monarchy of Qatar was weaponized by the media to justify a crushing Western sanctions regime that unleashed an unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis inside Syria.

How a US and Qatari regime-change deception produced ‘Caesar’ sanctions driving Syria towards famine

7. Naming the billionaires who are co-opting the environmental movement

The Grayzone editor-in-chief Max Blumenthal produced a deep investigation into the billionaire-funded corporate astroturfing infrastructure that has taken hold of the climate justice movement in North America.

Blumenthal showed how these oligarch-sponsored forces unified to successfully censor a documentary produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, “Planet of the Humans.”

‘Green’ billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of ‘Planet of the Humans’ documentary

8. Dispelling regime-change propaganda against Venezuela

Max Blumenthal and Anya Parampil reported from inside Venezuela during its December National Assembly election, where they dispelled media myths about the country’s democracy and shined a light on US government-led regime-change operations.

Blumenthal reported from a pro-government rally, where average Venezuelans spoke about the hybrid war on their homeland.

Parampil interviewed pro-Chavista voters, who are totally ignored in mainstream corporate media, in a video package from the polls.

Anya Parampil also revealed in an exclusive scoop in July how the “attorney general” appointed by Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó, José Ignacio Hernandez, raked in lucrative fees as a legal mercenary for the corporate looters of Venezuela’s PDVSA oil company.

Blockbuster oil bribery scandal exposes corrupt double-dealing of Guaidó ‘attorney general’

The Grayzone’s Ben Norton exposed how a US government-linked PR firm ran a huge disinformation campaign on social media to spread propaganda on behalf of the right-wing opposition in Venezuela and Bolivia.

U.S. govt-linked PR firm ran fake news networks for right-wing Latin American regimes

We showed how the US government’s so-called humanitarian arm USAID spent hundreds of billions of dollars to bankroll this right-wing Venezuelan opposition.

While Trump cuts food stamps, USAID bankrolls Venezuela regime change with half a billion in tax dollars

Some of the money that the US government illegally seized from Venezuela in this regime-change attempt, Norton documented, was used to fund Trump’s border wall with Mexico.

Trump used looted Venezuelan public money to build border wall with Mexico

This critical coverage of Venezuela led right-wing opposition leaders to blame The Grayzone and President Nicolás Maduro for the US uprising against police brutality, following the brutal killing of George Floyd, as Alexander Rubinstein reported.

Top Venezuelan opposition leaders blame The Grayzone and Nicolas Maduro for US uprising against police brutality

9. Exposing the US empire’s war on Nicaragua

Building on The Grayzone’s deep reporting on a brutally violent US-backed coup attempt in Nicaragua in 2018, targeting the small country’s democratically elected socialist Sandinista government, Ben Norton filed a series of reports from inside the country in 2020.

Norton uncovered a document from the US government’s soft-power arm USAID detailing new plans for a regime-change attempt, to bring about a “market economy” and a purge of Sandinistas.

Document exposes new US plot to overthrow Nicaragua’s elected socialist gov’t

The Grayzone also exposed how violent Nicaraguan coup-plotters who were dubbed “political prisoners” by US government-funded opposition groups and subsequently released under pressure by Washington and the Organization of American States then went on to murder innocent people, including their own pregnant girlfriends.

Norton traveled to rural Jinotepe to interview family members of one of the victims.

US and OAS lobby for Nicaraguan ‘political prisoners’ who butcher their pregnant girlfriends

Ben Norton was the only international reporter who got access to the small gathering marking the 41st anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, which was held in the capital Managua under tight Covid-19 restrictions on July 19.

An inside look at Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution on its 41st anniversary

While foreign corporate media outlets spread demonstrable lies and distortions about Nicaragua’s response to the novel coronavirus, Norton filed dispatches showing the reality on the ground.

As Nicaragua confronts Covid, its US-backed opposition exploits the pandemic to create chaos

And we detailed the role of the billionaire-funded human rights industry in advancing this regime-change war on Nicaragua and Venezuela, in collaboration with the US government.

Billionaire-backed Human Rights Watch lobbies for lethal US sanctions on leftist governments as Covid crisis rages

10. Shining light on billionaire Bill Gates’ global health empire and privatization schemes

Contributors Jeremy Loffredo and Michele Greenstein published a lengthy investigation for The Grayzone documenting how, with the help of a compliant Western media that was bought and sold by corporate oligarchs, billionaire Bill Gates and his Gates Foundation have exploited the Global South as a human laboratory, to suck out profits — and how Covid-19 kicked its privatization schemes into hyperdrive.

Why the Bill Gates global health empire promises more empire and less public health

11. Revealing Pete Buttigieg’s CIA ties

When newcomer Pete Buttigieg was elevated to the status of a Democratic Party star and media celebrity practically overnight, The Grayzone contributor Alexander Rubinstein looked past the neoliberal wunderkind marketing and documented the former US military spy’s work with the CIA during the war on Afghanistan.

Media darling Pete Buttigieg was in unit that worked with CIA in Afghanistan

Contributor Samuel D. Finkelstein investigated the long list of spooks and coup-plotters who were behind Buttigieg’s campaign.

The spooks’ choice: Coup plotters and CIA agents fill Pete Buttigieg’s list of national security endorsers

And Max Blumenthal showed how Buttigieg’s political career was carefully birthed and groomed in a petri dish with elite national security insiders.

The insider: How national security mandarins groomed Pete Buttigieg and managed his future

Related to these exposés were The Grayzone’s investigations into the sabotage of the Iowa caucus by Democratic Party elites in February, with the money of a shadowy billionaire.

Acronym group that sabotaged Iowa caucus birthed by billionaire who funded Alabama disinformation campaign

12. Showing the extreme-right oligarchs and US ties behind Mexican anti-AMLO opposition

As an increasingly vicious right-wing campaign against Mexico’s progressive President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) escalated in 2020, The Grayzone’s Ben Norton showed how the country’s oligarchs and establishment political parties united in a secret alliance to try to remove him from power, with help from the media, Washington, and Wall Street.

Leaked documents reveal right-wing oligarch plot to overthrow Mexico’s AMLO

Contributor José Guadalupe Argüello III and Norton likewise investigated the opposition alliance leading the campaign to undemocratically topple President AMLO, and documented their corporate ties and extreme-right views.

Meet the far-right oligarchs working to topple Mexico’s progressive President AMLO