WASHINGTON - It's as if the United States has two governments, one open and one very much not. President Barack Obama leads both, trying not to butt heads with himself.
Since becoming president, Obama has churned out an impressive stream of directives flowing from his promise to deliver "the most transparent administration in history."
He established a center devoted to declassifying records and making them public. He announced an open government initiative. Dizzying quantities of information poured into public databases. New ways were devised to show taxpayers how their money is spent. Allegiance was pledged to the rule of law.
Then there's the other government.
It prosecutes leakers like no administration before it. It exercises state-secrets privileges to quash court cases against it. It hides a vast array of directives and legal opinions underpinning government actions - not just intelligence and not all of it about national security.
Now it's known to conduct sweeping phone-records and Internet surveillance of ordinary people in programs kept on the lowdown until an employee of a National Security Agency contractor revealed them.
Dick Cheney said this would happen.
Known as the master manipulator of power behind the scenes as George W. Bush's vice president, Cheney predicted at the dawn of Obama's presidency that the relentless campaign criticism of shadowed government would not come to much.
"My guess is, once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, that they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place," he said. "They'll need all the authority they can muster." The empire of secrets lives on.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, says the U.S. has both the most open government in the world and arguably the most closed. Daily it publishes an unmatched avalanche of information. But daily its national security secrets also grow by staggering amounts.
Early on, there were signs Obama would not upend the fundamental balance of this parallel universe despite his pledges to take the government in a new, open direction.
Glasnost on the Potomac would have to wait.
One sign: Obama's 2009 marching orders for classifying documents closely resembled those of his predecessors at least back to Ronald Reagan.
Also, a 2011 review of the Obama administration's handling of public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act noted the many positive words from the president and his people about striving for a culture of disclosure.