Howard H Schack ... the one person you would least suspect of being a spy
My friend Howard H. Schack, an extraordinary human being, passed away on April 12, 2017 at the age of 89. Howard, also known as Harvey to family and friends, was the author of the award-winning book, A Spy in Canaan. He infiltrated the highest levels of Middle East governments as a consulting engineer, while secretly working for the Mossad.
Howard was the one person you would least suspect of being a spy. On the surface, he was “just” a successful American businessman, who happened to be Jewish, living in the northern suburbs of New York City. It was there, in Rockland County, New York, that my wife Lenore and I first met him, his wife Ruth and their four sons.
Unbeknownst to all, including his wife Ruth, Howard worked closely with the Mossad. He was a man who wanted to help Israel and he did something about it. The only one who knew what he was doing was Rabbi Louis Frishman. Our two families belonged to Rabbi Frishman's congregation in Spring Valley, New York.
G-d forbid, if something should happen to Howard, someone had to know what he was all about.
It must be noted that what distinguished Howard from some other spies was that he never spied against the United States, was never handled in the U.S. (he was briefed and debriefed in Canada or in different European capitals) and he never accepted any money from Israel. Howard combined his own company business with his undercover work and thus it was his business that paid for all his expenses. There was nothing strange about this as he did acquire many contracts for his own firm. However, to play it safe, Howard quit his avocation as a spy the day that Jonathan Pollard was arrested for spying against the United States government.
Howard insisted on not being paid for any of his undercover work. “I never engaged in activities that could even be remotely harmful to my country.” And he never accepted any money or gifts from the Institute (Mossad).
Howard started out in his father's glass repair and commercial glass business located in Spring Valley, New York, and he later developed it into an international enterprise. Trained in design and engineering, he was involved in the construction of military facilities throughout the world. As a result, he had access to secret documents and blueprints and was able to relay the information to the Mossad.
In late 1979, one such opportunity grew out of Howard being called in as a consultant for a new manufacturing plant being erected at a location north of Baghdad. To better familiarize himself with the project, he requested details and was handed the blueprint for the Osirak Nuclear Reactor to peruse. Howard managed to pass the information on to the Mossad. A year later Menachem Begin gave the green light to bomb the very same reactor in what he called an act of self-defense. It was Mossad policy not to acknowledge anyone’s undercover role in this or any other action. But Howard knew his work paid off.
In his travels throughout the Middle East, Howard was able to identify hostile targets for the Allies in Operation Desert Storm. He foresaw the likelihood of Anwar Sadat's assassination. Howard was ever alert, keeping his eyes and ears open for any bits of information that might be useful to the Mossad. There were some scary moments over the course of time, but Howard managed to say the right things and he had some key Arab connections whose names he would drop, when necessary, to get out of a tight spot.
Schack’s award-winning book A Spy in Canaan which was first published in 1995
Howard H. Schack was also the author of these other revealing titles: Desert Storms, Terrorism at Your Doorstep, Secret Agenda and The Outside Insider
The first scary episode occurred in the summer of 1974 at the Saudi Consulate in New York City. “Religion” was an item to be completed on visa applications. Howard wrote “Christian”. The clerk asked which denomination, a question Howard did not anticipate. His mind racing, he grasped at Ethical Culture...there was an Ethical Culture congregation not far from his home in Rockland County. The puzzled clerk asked if that was Protestant. Howard replied “yes”, hoping the clerk had no idea what Ethical Culture was. All his other papers were in order and Howard's visa was processed. After that, booking a flight to Saudi Arabia was “a piece of cake”.
Through a chain of business partners, Howard was invited to submit a bid for work on a petrochemical plant near Riyadh. This time he was stopped by Saudi passport control because his visa had one date in Arabic and a different date in English. They took Howard out of the queue and brought him before a Saudi Colonel, who detained and questioned him. With some bravado, Howard managed to have them telephone Saudi General Muhammad Al-Fawzy, someone he had worked with on several occasions. The General came to the rescue and chewed the Colonel out. After the Colonel hung up the telephone, he sheepishly apologized to Howard. To make amends, the Colonel then provided a driver and a limousine to drive Howard to his hotel.
Years later, Lenore and I moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey, and the Schacks continued living in Rockland County, New York. As members of the Social Action Committee at our synagogue, we invited Howard to come tell his story. He was a spellbinding speaker and an inspiration. I saw Howard as a man with chutzpa, having done what others might have wanted to do but could not or would not do.
In recent years, Howard was trying to have his book, A Spy In Canaan, filmed.
Ever resourceful, he wrote a screenplay outline and he even had a wish list of the actors he wanted to star in the movie. After Howard passed away, a friend of mine in the movie industry, with whom I had put Howard in contact, wrote, “So sad that Howard Schack passed away. We were doing a lot of research and sent his book out to several publishing companies”. Who knows, maybe Howard's story will still make it to the “big screen”.
So what did Howard do for fun after his spying days were over? He had many interests and had no trouble finding things to do. He decided to spend more time with his family, such as travelling cross country for weeks at a time in their RV. He gave up direct control of his business and started a new career as a consultant to some of the international firms he had dealt with. And he embarked on yet another project, writing books, non-fiction and fiction, using information that he absorbed in his worldly travels and dealings. A Spy in Canaan, non-fiction, was his first. In his book Secret Agenda, published two years before the New York World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Howard warned of plans to attack the United States. He also wrote The Outside Insider, Sacred Quest, Desert Storms and Terrorism at your Doorstep.
And when he wasn't busy writing books, Howard consulted for organizations such as
The Homeland Security Professionals Group, The International Counter Terrorism Officers Association and other similar groups. A well-rounded man, he was a founding member of Temple Beth El in Spring Valley, New York, a member of the Historical Society of Rockland County and past President of Hellman Memorial Chapels.
I will always remember Howard for his scintillating conversation and for his great sense of humor. Farewell, my friend!