CHAPPAQUA, NY—After more than 60 years of redacting classified but amusing anecdotes from Reader's Digest's popular Humor in Uniform section, the CIA announced Monday that the full text of thousands of previously censored jokes will now be made available to the public.
Submitted to the monthly magazine by covert field operatives, paramilitary officers, and black-ops specialists, the lighthearted vignettes have for decades only appeared with their most sensitive and hilarious details obscured.
"Since the dawn of the Cold War, certain humorous materials have been kept from the American public in the name of national security," CIA director Leon Panetta said at a press conference. "But thanks to recent declassification efforts and the Freedom of Information Act, citizens will now be able to see for themselves what exactly was so funny about the historical goofs and gaffes of this agency's most confidential overseas operations."
Added Panetta, "Never before has so much laughter been brought to light."
Panetta pointed out several "rib-tickling gags" relating to the 1973 Chilean coup, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the rise of crack cocaine, all of which had their punch lines blacked-out when originally published.
He also made mention of a 1962 joke that only became comprehensible once the names in the story were revealed: In it, CIA agents are brainwashing Lee Harvey Oswald to turn him into an assassin. The first agent, who wears a JFK mask, is beating Oswald in the face and counting out his punches, "One-two! One-two!" A second agent, playing the "good cop" role, enters the room with a cup of coffee and, without thinking, asks Oswald, "Would you like one, too?" Oswald shrieks in terror, and the project is delayed for months.
The editors of Reader's Digest said they were "thrilled" to finally make the estimated 3,000 pages of classified anecdotes public, calling it a victory for democracy and for people who like to laugh.
"I'll admit this one isn't very funny if you can't read the part explaining how one of the briefcases contains vital information that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks," said editor-in-chief Peggy Northrup, referring to a previously redacted Humor in Uniform story detailing a wacky mix-up that led to hundreds of deaths. "And sure, it's confusing to end a joke with 'it just goes to show you' when the thing we're trying to show you has been blacked-out to protect the identity of some ex-con who funneled money to several Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s."
Added Northrup, "Actually, I still don't really get that one."
Now that the Humor in Uniform archives have been declassified, longtime readers are experiencing both chuckles and chilling insight into all the hilarious conundrums intelligence personnel have gotten themselves into during six decades of deniable operations.
"There's this great one from 1982, about the old spy and the young spy taking bribe money to a resistance leader in the desert," subscriber Shelley Holmes said. "It was all blacked-out except for the part where the old spy says, 'I remember when the payoffs were skinny and the dictators were fat!' It takes on new meaning now that I know the old spy, who had spent the 1970s ferrying moderate sums of CIA funds to portly South American fascists, was now handing over taxpayer-backed bearer bonds for $25 million to Osama Bin Laden, who is quite slender indeed."
Service members and intelligence personnel will likely always submit their comic musings to Reader's Digest, Panetta said, because humor is still the best way to help deep- cover specialists cope with the stress of events like the Laotian Civil War, the torture of an innocent terror suspect, or even a goofy blunder that might occur when agents attempting to influence the ongoing drug war in Mexico try to introduce Ebola into a Ciudad Juárez reservoir but accidentally capsize their canoe and instead release the deadly virus on the American side of the Rio Grande.
"I think I speak for all of us when I say I can't wait to see how that one turns out," Panetta said. "I'm laughing already."