With the recent news that MAD Magazine will be effectively ending publication after nearly 70 years, it’s worth revisiting the one gag that the Central Intelligence Agency liked so much that it became a state secret.
A file in the CIA archives labeled “PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENTS” consists mostly of press clippings from the late ‘70s, directed to various Agency employees for comment. A routing slip dated August 6th, 1977 addressed to Herb Hetu, the CIA’s Assistant for Public Affairs, informed Hetu that there was an item that likely escaped his notice: A joke about the Agency’s new Director, Stansfield Turner, in the latest issue of MAD.
The full two-page spread, “Famous People’s Telephone Answering Machine Messages” was included, with Turner listed among other luminaries of the decade as Howard Cossell and Erica Jong.
Turner’s gag, near the bottom of the page, is helpfully identified by a few hand-drawn arrows …
Apparently deciding that Turner shouldn’t have to share a page with Jessica Lange, the CIA isolated and enlarged the clipping, officially categorizing it as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). According to the file, that clipping was made public in August 2007 - just a month shy of 30 years after the original publication.
Read the full clipping embedded below.