Until last week, few Americans had heard of United States President George W. Bush's closest adviser, Karl Rove. Amid accusations that the White House leaked the name of a CIA agent to reprimand a critic of the war in Iraq, his secretive mantle has been shattered. Opposition Democrats claim Mr Rove is behind the naming of former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife. They want an independent inquiry into the case, rather than the one the Bush administration has ordered the Justice Department to carry out. The controversy comes at a delicate time for the Bush administration. As the mastermind of Mr Bush's political career, Mr Rove's sights were on winning another presidential term next year. His planning has been put into disarray. White House officials have strenuously denied involvement. Last Sunday, Mr Rove, known as the president's domestic policy adviser, made a rare appearance before the media and issued an unusually worded rebuttal of his own. 'Today, many news organisations are emerging from their summertime journalistic coma to discover months-old indications that yours truly, Karl H. Rove, took personal and illegal revenge upon Joseph A. Wilson, one of President Bush's most prominent detractors, by revealing classified information about his wife being an undercover CIA agent - thereby endangering national security and jeopardising a life that is apparently of value to a handful of people outside of the White House,' he said. 'And while I am not at liberty to comment directly on the veracity of those allegations, let me just say that I want Americans to believe that it breaks my heart that anyone could possibly believe that I am so vindictive, ethically bankrupt and politically vicious as to invite syndicated columnist Bob Novak for a romantic dinner for two at Annie's Paramount Steak House on July 12th at 7pm, then intentionally leak details over an apple dumpling dessert that would endanger the loved ones of my most despised ideological nemeses. That is all I have to say on the matter.' To Washington political insiders and journalists who know Mr Rove, the brief comments summed up his persona - sharp-witted and the most cunning of political animals. Those qualities must have been in the minds of the dozen political scientists approached to comment on Mr Rove's methods for this article. None responded to e-mails and telephone calls. The reason is simple, according to Texas political journalist Wayne Slater, co-author of Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove made George W. Bush Presidential. The strategist can destroy careers. 'People are afraid of him, whether they're a close ally or neutral,' Slater, an Austin-based reporter for the Dallas Morning News and 15-year observer of Mr Rove, said last Thursday. 'They are afraid of the potential that he can cause for damage in their life. He's very influential and for years, his reputation has been to play a hard-ball game of politics and take no prisoners.' Lobbyists, consultants and journalists were among those who did not want to talk about him for fear of losing business or access by being shunned by the president or his advisers. 'Part of this is paranoia - no single human being has this much influence,' Slater said. 'But if you know his political history, then you know he is someone who if you cross him, you may pay a price.' Slater has been covering political events in Texas since the mid-1980s, when Mr Rove was building a reputation for creating election winners. He believed his anecdotal evidence, careful note-taking and contacts enabled him to write a book no one else has dared attempt. Washington-based investigative journalist Wayne Madsen has written about Mr Rove for internet publications. Not a member of the 'inner circle' of journalists in the capital, he felt immune to any perceived pressure not to publish. 'You're not going to get a lot of people talking about Karl Rove because, apparently, he's got quite a dossier on a lot of people,' Madsen said, equating him with former long-time chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover. Mr Rove, 53 on December 25, has been a supporter of the Republican Party since the age of nine and of the Bush family since 1973. He attended half a dozen colleges, although he never graduated. Born in Colorado, he lived in Utah and Nevada before - like Mr Bush - adopting Texas as his home. With friends at the University of Texas in the mid-1970s, he settled on a career of political king-making. In 1973, when Mr Bush's father was chairman of the Texas Republican Party, Mr Rove was elected to head the College Republicans. The senior Bush hired Mr Rove to help him win the presidency in 1980. He lost to Ronald Reagan, who appointed him vice-president. Mr Rove was retained on Mr Bush's staff and won him the presidency in 1988. During the 1980s, Mr Rove was the apprentice of the Republicans' so-called 'attack dog', Lee Atwater, who died of cancer in 1991. The clients of Atwater's firm, Black, Manafort and Stone, included former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the Angolan rebel group Unita. Mr Rove used the political skills he learned to win elections for clients of his own consulting firm. Slater believes the strategist was responsible for convincing George W. Bush to give up a career as an oil company executive for politics. In November 1993, Mr Bush won the Texas governorship by defeating Democratic incumbent Ann Richards. With Mr Rove's political insight, Republicans were sweeping to victory in political races across Texas. Former Democratic consultant Mark McKinnon described him as the political equivalent of ex-chess champion Bobby Fischer: 'He not only sees the board, he sees about 20 moves ahead.' The far-sighted campaigner saw Mr Bush through another term as governor and then headed his successful campaign for the presidency in 2000. Slater describes Mr Rove as 'brilliant, relentless, extraordinary and indefatigable'. 'He never sleeps, it seems,' he said. 'Very often, he plays good, old hard-ball politics. Sometimes, it's dirty tricks, occasionally a bit closer to the line in the minds of some folks. But in every case, bad things happen to Karl's opponent and good things happen to his candidate.' Slater said that during Ms Richards' bid for re-election, gossip began circulating in conservative eastern Texas that she had lesbians on her staff. Despite denials, he believed Mr Rove was behind the 'whisper campaign'. Amid the scandal now sweeping the White House and with the race for the presidency warming up, the tables appear to have turned. Slater is unsure if it will mean Mr Rove's downfall. He believes that although the scandal bore the hallmarks of Mr Rove's past strategies, the adviser is 'too smart to have initiated this kind of thing'. 'At the same time, if the inquiry finds out it is Karl Rove who did the leaking, he's gone,' he said. 'But short of that, this man has been too closely associated with Mr Bush and is too important to him - not simply as an adviser and confidant, but as the architect of his entire political career. It would take a hurricane - a disaster - before the president cuts the line and allows Karl Rove to go away.'