Tin Foil Halo #7: ONI Knows All

 

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The following article makes reference to and could potentially contain spoilers for Halo: Glasslands, Halo: The Thursday War, Halo: Mortal Dictata, and Hunt the Truth.

TL;DR

(Halo: Podcast Evolved and Blogging Evolved use Halopedia as our primary source of information)

The chance encounter that Kilo-Five and Naomi-010 had with her father, Staffan Sentzke, on Venezia was actually an elaborate plan by then head of ONI Margaret Parangosky to flush out a known terrorist, test her protege Serin Osman’s ability to lead and make hard decisions, and clear help clear her conscience from the moral travesty that was the Spartan-II program. The idea that Parangosky and all of ONI were unaware that Sentzke was on Venezia and just happened to send an ONI team consisting of the future head of ONI, the daughter of Sentzke, and two ODSTs with strong moral compasses is absurd. The only reasonable explanation is that Parangosky, now finally being able to reflect upon the end of the Human-Covenant War, was having serious internal conflict about kidnapping children for the Spartan-II program, and saw Sentzke’s presence on Venezia as an opportunity to stage this “chance encounter” in order to try and clear her conscience before she died.

 

THE THEORY

At the start of Glasslands and the entire Kilo-Five trilogy, ONI forms a new undercover team of spies known as Kilo-Five to infiltrate the Sangheili civil war (known colloquially to the Sangheili as the Blooding Years), and provide support to the weaker factions, lengthening and worsening the fighting, and weakening the Sangheili even further than they already had been. This team consisted of some obvious choices, as well as a few less obvious choices, that in hindsight, were likely made on purpose to support an entirely different goal.

FORMING A TEAM

 Commander-in-Chief of ONI, Admiral Serin Osman.

Commander-in-Chief of ONI, Admiral Serin Osman.

Leading the squad was Serin Osman, a former Spartan-II washout, and, at the time, the next in line to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence once Margaret Parangosky retired or passed. Supporting here were some very highly decorated individuals, who each possessed unique qualities that either assisted in the stated goal of disrupting the Sangheili, or in the secret goal of making Parangosky feel better for her abhorrent and criminal decisions decades prior.

First was professor Evan Phillips, who was certainly not military, but possessed an impressive knowledge of both Sangheili culture and Forerunner artifacts. His inclusion in the squad seems completely in-line with the stated goals of their mission, and as time would tell, proved invaluable to successfully completing their objective. While there may have been others available with similar knowledge, they are definitely few and far between during this time period, and likely fewer that would have help up well to the ordeal Kilo-Five was forced to endure.

Second was three ODSTs, Malcolm Geffen (Mal), Lian Devereaux, and Vasily Beloi (Vas). Devereaux was a fairly inconsequential character during the entire series so I will ignore her contribution to the mission, but Mal and Vas stand out above the rest. Why did ONI pick those two specifically? Sure, they were highly decorated and experienced ODSTs, but so were hundreds of others. What made these two stand out above the rest of the crowd? Their incredibly strong moral compass, particularly from Vas, who as we find out later in the series, favored his morals over what he perceived as his duty to ONI. How did this help Kilo-Five disrupt the Sangheili? It didn’t. But it did play into Parangosky’s plan’s perfectly, and without it, the events involving Staffan Sentzke and Pious Inquisitor likely would have played out much differently.

Third is the most baffling of all, Naomi-010. Why on Earth would ONI assign an elite soldier like a Spartan-II to an undercover mission on an alien planet when their entire objective involved being mostly unseen and forgettable? Sure, she provided the team with a lot of muscle, but her value to the team was only marginally greater than a couple more ODSTs, and her skills were being greatly underutilized confined to their ship the Port Stanley or unarmored on the surface of Venezia, a fiercely independent colony with strong insurrectionist ties. There was simply no way Parangosky thought Naomi-010’s inclusion on the team was a good idea, except for the fact that she had ulterior motives that made Naomi the only viable candidate for the job.

 

Kilo-Five preparing to get on-board the UNSC Port Stanley, January 2553.
Image courtesy of Halo: Mythos and Isaac Hannaford.

 

Last was Black Box, a fourth-generation smart AI who was not afraid to say exactly what was on his mind, particularly when it came to Catherine Halsey. BB might have thought of himself as impartial, but it was obvious from the start of Kilo-Five’s mission that he favored Parangosky and ONI over all else. As we find out later, this was likely due to his donor, who committed suicide after coming to terms with what he did while working on the Spartan-II program. His inclusion on the team didn’t seem out of place for the stated mission of disrupting Sanghelios, but the fact that Parangosky chose an AI so loyal to her specifically is telling that she had other things in mind when Kilo-Five was initially assembled.

THE ART OF SUBTERFUGE

ONI is widely known to work deep in the shadows of both the UNSC and the Unified Earth Government, layering plans upon plans, hiding information from not only the public, but the UNSC, UEG, and other sections of ONI itself, with the intended goal of continuing the existence of humanity and the UEG by any means necessary. Most notably were the events that resulted in Benjamin Giraud residing in the secret prison known as Midnight Facility due to his attempt to uncover and bring to light the reality that was the Spartan-II program. While ONI’s original goal (as far as we know) was to create a public relations fluff piece on the Spartan-II program and John-117, Giraud eventually turned rogue after discovering that the information and sources ONI was feeding him was mostly falsified.

After much internal struggle, Giraud decided to do the right thing and release what he had learned about ONI kidnapping children, creating terminal clones to replace them, and turning the children into child-soldiers to fight against the insurrection. So what did ONI do? After trying and failing to silence him peacefully, they sent a pair of ONI agents to his house to kill him, only to have those agents themselves killed by Giraud’s ally, who turned out to be an ONI agent herself. Let that sink in. They sent in their own agents with the explicit plan to have them killed by another one of ONI’s agents, just to gain Giraud’s trust and take him down from the inside. This is an organization that has people everywhere, and does not let morality get in the way of their objectives. While we don’t know for sure, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider that Mshak Moradi or even Ray Kurzig were actually ONI agents feeding Giraud information and pushing him down the path of this elaborate ONI scheme.

 

If you haven’t listened to it yet, I strongly recommend checking out both seasons of Hunt the Truth.

 

So knowing just how much information ONI is sitting on, how far their grasp reaches, and the lengths to which they are willing to go to achieve their objectives, how could they have possibly been completely unaware of Staffan Sentzke’s presence on Venezia? This is a man who had spent the better part of four decades searching for his daughter, all while making it clear he blamed ONI and the UNSC for her disappearance. They knew. They had to know. And they had to have been watching his every move from the time his daughter disappeared in 2517 through the new life he made for himself on Venezia. So when Kilo-Five stumbles across Sentzke during their mission, it was no fortuitous accident. It was one part of a much larger plan. The only difference this time is that the plan wasn’t just to flush out a known insurrectionist. It was to try and clear the conscience of a woman who had made such terrible decisions as the head of ONI that the gravity of the cumulative immorality was weighing heavily on her decaying and putrid soul.

BEGGING FOR FORGIVENESS

Margaret Parangosky was by all accounts a very strong-willed individual. She knew what had to be done as head of ONI to keep Earth, the UNSC, the UEG, and most importantly ONI, in power. Many times those decisions were morally ambiguous, and many more times they were morally abhorrent. What Parangosky and Doctor Catherine Halsey did by developing and implementing the Spartan-II program definitely fell into the latter category, and may have been the most disgusting decision ever made by those in power. Not only did they decide to literally steal children from their families, they then replaced those children with clones that ONI knew would quickly die horrible deaths, and conscripted the children into a secret military program designed to turn the children into weapons. These are six-year-old children that they kidnapped. These are six-year-old children they created in a lab and left to die in agony. ONI may argue this is was justified to save humanity from destroying itself (and was fortuitous when the Covenant showed up a few years later) , but no ends justify those means. These are unforgivable decisions, and the weight was surely sitting heavily on Margaret Parangosky’s heart, particularly after the end of the Human-Covenant War and near the end of Parangosky’s life.

 As a quick aside, while the accepted story has always been that the Spartan-II program was created to fight the insurrection, and it was pure luck that its completion coincided with the arrival of the Covenant, it makes you wonder whether ONI actually had some knowledge of the Covenant prior to 2525 and just hid it from everyone. Had they known of a technologically-superior and violent alien faction just outside of human-occupied space prior to 2517, it would be no surprise that they were so willing to take such drastic action and green-light a program that would carry so much baggage for so many decades to come. I’m not saying they knew, but given ONI’s track record, it would not surprise me in the slightest.

 
 Spartan-II candidates, waiting for their round of augmentations, March 2525.

Spartan-II candidates, waiting for their round of augmentations, March 2525.

 

Like many people surely do when they are nearing the end of their life, Parangosky must have been reflecting on her past and her record as head of ONI once the war ended in 2552. While there were no doubt countless decisions she made that were weighing on her, the entire Spartan-II program was undoubtedly at the front of her mind. And like many people, she probably wanted to make amends for something she now regretted, at least to some degree. But Parangosky was the head of ONI. She can’t just come out and tell everyone about the program. Aside from the damage it would cause ONI itself, there were still many Spartan-IIs fighting for humanity who would likely get pulled from duty and thrown into a political nightmare. No, that wasn’t an option. But Parangosky still wanted forgiveness, or at least a small moral reprieve in her mind. So what did she do? She found one of the parents she wronged so many years ago, Staffan Sentzke, and threw his daughter Naomi-010 right into his path. Maybe she didn’t know exactly how it would end up, but Parangosky made sure she stacked the deck in her favor by creating a team of people sympathetic to Naomi and Sentzke.

THREE BIRDS / ONE STONE

Staffing Kilo-Five with the people she did supported more than just her hopes of redemption in her mind. Of course they had their actual mission of stoking the fire that was the Sangheili civil war, and the side mission of trying to lessen Parangosky’s guilt by providing the Sentzke family with some sort of closure, but there was also the matter of Serin Osman. Osman was in line to take over for Parangosky in the near future, but she still needed to be tested as a leader, making hard decisions on her own without the support of Parangosky or the rest of ONI. And Osman had baggage too, namely in the Spartan-II program which she had never fully come to terms with after all those years. Though Osman had access to the ONI documents that revealed Osman’s background, her family, and her childhood, she never could get herself to look at them. In Parangosky’s mind this was a potential liability that could affect the decisions Osman made as head of ONI.

So how do you get Osman to face those demons of her past, and put her in a difficult situation that challenges her ethics and forces Osman to take command and make her own decisions? Staffan Sentzke. When the entire crew of Port Stanley was forced to come face-to-face with a person directly affected by the Spartan-II program, Osman had no choice but to watch first-hand as Naomi dealt with her past. And it was in no small part responsible for pushing Osman on the path to confront her own demons in her past before the Spartan-II program. This entire sequence of events not only gave Osman the command experience she needed to be head of ONI then, but it also allowed her to enter the position without all the baggage Parangosky feared would hamper Osman’s ability to lead with a clear head and clear conscience.

STOKING THE FIRE

 Onyx, the planet that surrounded the Sarcophagus, in the process of decoalescing in 2552.

Onyx, the planet that surrounded the Sarcophagus, in the process of decoalescing in 2552.

While it is hard to argue that Parangosky could have known that Halsey would reappear in the universe at just about the same time, it is an easy argument to make that Parangosky sent Kilo-Five on the mission to retrieve Halsey from the Sarcophagus specifically to rile up the crew in a fury of rage once everyone learned the realities of the Spartan-IIs. She literally could have sent any other ONI team to recover Halsey and put her in custody. Were it just some team without knowledge of Halsey’s deeds, they would have simply arrested her, turned her over, and been done with it. But she sends the team consisting of a Spartan-II washout, a current Spartan-II, two moral absolutist ODSTs, and an AI made from the brain of someone who worked on the Spartan-II program and killed himself because of his guilt. From the perspective of maintaining focus on the mission, she picked the absolute worst team for the job. But from the perspective of someone with a guilty conscience, she sent exactly who would get her the results she wanted.

Whether it was done on purpose or not, having Kilo-Five meet Halsey didn’t just bring the entirety of the Spartan-II program to the forefront, but it gave them the perfect person to focus all their rage on. Halsey is certainly worthy of being the crew’s punching bag, but it does help Parangosky out quite a bit by deflecting much of the blame for the program from her straight onto Halsey. Even me, a crazy Halo conspiracy theorist, is struggling to see how Parangosky could have planned that all out beforehand, but I do think she knew exactly how to exploit Halsey’s reappearance to her advantage.

This deflection of blame is also why the entire Kilo-Five trilogy has such a negative bias towards Halsey. This is exactly what Parangosky wants to happen, and she ensures that the entire crew is pushed even further in this direction. Osman already had fairly strong feelings of hatred for Halsey from her time in the Spartan-II program, and the subsequent decades Parangosky had with Osman to ensure all the blame fell squarely on Halsey’s shoulders only reinforced Osman’s disgust towards Halsey and admiration of Parangosky. She may come off as fairly honest and straight-forward towards all of Kilo-Five and Osman during their mission, but Parangosky is just manipulating them to her benefit like she does with everyone she meets.

HER HEART GREW THREE SIZES THAT DAY

Once Halsey arrived on Port Stanley, all the pieces that Parangosky had laid out started to fit together very quickly. Naomi was given the opportunity to explore her past with the help of ONI records and Halsey herself, and Osman got a front-row seat to the entire show. Mal and Vas became closely involved in the whole process too, further strengthening their disgust for the Spartan-II program in general and Halsey in particular. Then, having been basically thrown right into the path of Staffan Sentzke who Parangosky knew was on Venezia plotting his revenge, Osman, Naomi, and Kilo-Five are given their opportunity to make amends.

Were Kilo-Five not staffed with the team most sympathetic to Staffan Senzke’s situation, Sentzke likely would have quickly been killed and the situation handled. But Kilo-Five couldn’t just kill Sentzke. He is the father of one of their crew members, and everyone on Port Stanley knew what had been done to Naomi and to Staffan. So instead, they end up implementing what can only be described as a foolish and dangerous plan to give a civilian and known terrorist sympathizer highly classified intel and reveal what actually happened to Staffan’s daughter all those years ago. And they even go so far as to let Naomi and Staffan see each other, confirming that Sentzke’s crazy conspiracy theory from all those years ago was actually correct. This may have been the morally right thing to do, but it was tactically fool-hearty and easily could have gotten the entire crew killed.

 
 Pious Inquisitor, the ship the Staffan Senzke bought on the black market and used to fake his own death when it was destroyed in 2553.

Pious Inquisitor, the ship the Staffan Senzke bought on the black market and used to fake his own death when it was destroyed in 2553.

 

Then the kicker is at the end, when Sentzke basically fakes his own death, an action supported by all of Kilo-Five, and is allowed to get away with the knowledge that ONI is exactly as evil as everyone thinks. Osman reports to Parangosky that Sentzke is probably dead, but Parangosky knows better. In all her years in ONI, Parangosky knows that it is dangerous to just assume Sentzke is dead without seeing a body. But then why doesn’t she care? Because she still has eyes on Sentzke, and she knows that he can be killed at a moment’s notice if needed. Parangosky gave her protege the opportunity to make decisions on her own, but did so while managing to maintain actual control over the entire situation.

And as a kicker, Parangosky got to feel absolved of guilt by giving Naomi, Osman, and Sentzke some closure. Everyone who knew of the realities of the Spartan-II program blamed Halsey almost exclusively, and Parangosky herself had a convenient excuse that she didn’t really know how bad the program was, and when given the opportunity to right a wrong, did what she could. Its mostly a lie, but I’m sure it made Parangosky feel like a righteous person, and helped her sleep at night.

A LIAR BY ANY OTHER NAME…

The amazing thing about the Kilo-Five trilogy is just the sheer number of lies Parangosky was feeding everyone. She managed to manipulate the entire crew to do her bidding, and even successfully lied to herself that what she was doing was right. She convinced the crew that Halsey was really to blame for the entire Spartan-II program, and lied that she knew nothing about the clones. Let’s face it, there is no way she was unaware an ONI lab was making dozens of human clones and dropping them on grieving families. There would have been too many people involved, and there would have been too much information coming out that there was a spate of children the age of the Spartan-IIs dying all around the same time. She knew, she straight out lied to Osman, to Kilo-Five, to Halsey, and by extension, the reader. Don’t be fooled into thinking Kilo-Five was some sort of retcon and established that the clones were all Halsey’s idea. The only thing this does is prove that Parangosky is truly a master manipulator, and will do everything in her power to get her way.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Parangosky is the second most manipulative character in the entire Halo universe. No other human wields so much power, layers so many lies on top of one another, and manages to pull off the deception time and time again. She did it with the Spartan-IIs, she did it with Kurt-051 when she recruited him as trainer of the Spartan-IIIs, she did it with Infinity, and she did it with Kilo-Five. Parangosky is out of the picture by the time of Benjamin Giraud’s encounter with ONI, but all the pieces on the field that were played in order to rein Ben in were placed by Parangosky years prior.

There is one other character in the Halo universe whose ability to deceive and manipulate to achieve their goals dwarfs that of Parangosky. This character didn’t just deceive a majority of an entire species through several decades, an insurrection, and a galactic war. This character deceived the entire Milky Way galaxy, and hatched their plan over the course of millions of years. This character goes by many names, and has taken many forms. We know it as the Primordial or the Gravemind.

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