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Looking for Halo: The Cole Protocol, the sixth Halo novel?

“It would take years to ram this down the throats of the politicians, but as far as my battle group was concerned, it was law.”
— Admiral Cole on his first draft of the Cole Protocol.[1]

The United Nations Space Command Emergency Priority Order 098831A-1, otherwise known as the Cole Protocol, was a command enacted by Admiral Preston Cole to prevent the Covenant from finding the location of Earth or any other core world location. It was an order preventing Covenant retrieval of data that contained the location of Earth, and forbids retreating vessels from setting a direct slipspace course towards any human population center, as the Covenant were able to track Slipspace travel vectors and calculate the evacuating ship's destination. The policy also stated that to prevent capture, any UNSC or Human vessel, in the event of an emergency evacuation, was to self-destruct, after wiping all data matrices, to prevent the advance of the Covenant.

All UNSC personnel were commanded to read the Cole Protocol under NAVCOM UNSC Emergency Priority Order 098831A-1. The Cole Protocol ensured that in nearly 27 years of interstellar warfare, the Covenant never discovered the Human presence on Earth, and only found other population centers either by accident, tracking devices left aboard ships,[2] or presence of Forerunner artifacts (and the fact that their shipboard scanners mistook humans for Forerunner artifacts).[3] Unfortunately, the Protocol eventually outlived its usefulness when the Covenant discovered Earth, as well as nearly all large population centers, by 2552.

The Protocol[]

Article 1[]

ONI Seal 1
United Nations Space Command Emergency Priority Order 098831A-1
Encryption Code: Red
Public Key: file/ First light/
From: UNSC/NAVCOM Fleet H.T. Ward
Subject: General Order 098831A-1 ("The Cole Protocol")
Classification: RESTRICTED (BGX Directive)
The Cole Protocol
To safeguard and protect the Inner Colonies and Earth, all UNSC vessels or stations must not be captured with intact navigation databases that may lead Covenant forces to human civilian population centers.
If any Covenant forces are detected:
1. Activate selective purge of databases on all ship-based and planetary data networks.
2. Initiate triple-screen check to ensure all data has been erased and all backups neutralized.
3. Execute viral data scavengers (Download from UNSCTTP://EPWW:COLEPROTOCOL/Virtualscav/fbr.091)
4. If retreating from Covenant forces, all ships must enter Slipstream space with randomized vectors NOT directed toward Earth, the Inner Colonies, or any other human population center.
5. In case of imminent capture by Covenant forces and boarders, all UNSC ships MUST self-destruct.
Violation of this directive will be considered an act of TREASON and pursuant to UNSC Military law articles JAG 845-P and JAG 7556-L, such violations are punishable by life imprisonment or execution.

*It should be noted that Lieutenant Wagner broke Article 4, but no action was taken against him as it warned Earth about the state of Reach sooner.

Article 2[]

This article is never directly stated, though Captain Keyes uses it in Halo: Combat Evolved while his ship is crashing on Installation 04. Captain Keyes says, "I'm initiating the Cole Protocol, Article 2. We're abandoning the Autumn. That means you, too, Cortana." Later saying, "Destruction or capture of a shipboard AI is absolutely unacceptable."[4]

It is possible that Article 2 governs protocol in terms of abandoning a vessel. Article 2 could be theorized to mandate the removal, not destruction, of a shipboard AI if the ship in question will still be intact and its crew is able to protect the AI in question. This does seem to contradict Article 5 of the Cole Protocol, which states that ships in danger of being overtaken by Covenant forces must self-destruct.

This could also imply that Article 2 directs personnel, or at least those with sensitive information, to avoid capture. Whilst it is not apparent to what lengths UNSC personnel are to go to ensure this, apparently in the case of AIs the worst case scenario only allows them to be hidden rather than terminated. Strangely, in Halo: First Strike there does not seem to be any attempt to recover any potentially surviving AIs. In any case, preserving Cortana proved to be inextricably linked to the survival of the crew of the Pillar of Autumn and the success of its mission.

Subsection 7[]

No captured Covenant craft may be taken to human controlled space without an exhaustive search for tracking systems that could lead the Covenant to Human bases.

Few had even heard of Subsection Seven because it was little more than a technicality before Ascendant Justice was captured by John-117 and his team. This was due to the chances of capturing even a severely crippled Covenant ship were minuscule, as the ship's crew would usually activate their self-destruct function before the completion of such attempts. Because Ascendant Justice could not be thoroughly searched, John-117 and LT Elias Haverson instead planned to take the ship to Reach (a world already known to the Covenant) and try to return with a more prepared team.[5]

This rule also encompassed Covenant weapons and equipment. As the Covenant have been known to plant bugs on materials to learn their origin (e.g. the UNSC Iroquois), this would be considered a violation of this law. Bringing a Covenant weapon back to any UNSC installation or Inner Colony was considered an act of treason.[6] Emile-A239's impressive collection of Covenant equipment captured after battle was also in violation of this rule. It should also be noted that UNSC Army Colonel Urban Holland was against reporting Emile for this offense, claiming that the Army does not need to follow Naval laws.


The Cole Protocol's core aim was to prevent the Covenant from locating the precise vectors of Earth or any of the other remaining UNSC colonies. As such, its usage is universal - from warships, to freighters, to even stationary space stations in inertial orbit. For structures that are incapable of leading Covenant forces to a colony, the purging of their navigational data banks is still mandatory, and self-destruct options exist to prevent the capture of any remaining data or crew.



Preston Cole writing up Hypodermic-FXT-J.

Hypodermic-FXT-J contained the basic instructions set in the final draft of the first articles of the Cole Protocol.[1] In it, the report contained:

Admiral Margaret Parangosky/Office of Naval Intelligence/Routing Sequence: Hypodermic-FXT-J
(Continued from previous page)...

Based on the data revealed by the alien, these new protocols must be immediately implemented:

  1. All UNSC and civilian ships which come in contact with alien assets must have NAV computer/AI erased—destroyed if necessary—to prevent capture of core world locations.
  2. ALL Human vessels fleeing from alien forces must do so on a randomly generated vector away from UNSC core world locations.
  3. ONI Section II to immediately begin Slipstream space attenuated broadcast of pre-recorded human carrier signals from antiquity to prevent triangulation of

{page ends here}[7]


  • In most—if not in all—engagements with the Covenant, the UNSC used the Cole Protocol to great effect.
  • Prior to the Covenant's discovery of Earth, the Cole Protocol was extremely effective, as noted by a Sangheili who remarked that, "We do not know where their homeworld is. Their pattern of retreat is either hopelessly random, or brilliantly conceived."[8]
  • In November 2552, the Cole Protocol was no longer totally effective in its usage, as the Covenant had discovered Earth's location. It would still have some use, however, as there were still many more colonies to protect.[9]
  • Emile-A239 possess an impressive collection of Covenant contraband. Although a superior noted that it is a direct violation of Subsection Seven, he ignored it, saying "Good thing we're ARMY."[10]
  • Statistically, enough jumps from enough ships could be used to see which direction ships *don't* jump towards as often, and then use that as triangulation effort. In WW2, many tactics were used to 'hide' these statistical effects that could give intelligence about a protocol in effect, including 'giving away' select (real or artificial) locations of bases, ships etc. as decoys to balance out the statistics. Although, due to the immense nature of space, such statistics would take a monumental amount of time and battles to gather. Though this strategy may have lead the Covenant to a few human worlds.
  • Despite it being illegal to have Covenant weaponry, ONI had no problem letting the Spartan-III Program have samples of Covenant weapons.
  • The Cole Protocol was so important that failure to comply with the protocol could result in the Death Penalty.