Puppet masters are supposed to hide in the shadows and create on-stage magic without revealing themselves or the strings they are pulling. That golden rule seems to have been forgotten by the foremost puppeteers in US President George W. Bush's administration, Karl Rove and Lewis 'Scooter' Libby. Not only have Mr Rove and Mr Libby in the past week eclipsed the media attention of their respective bosses, Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, their roles would seem to have been reversed. Mr Bush and Mr Cheney have been doing damage-control on behalf of their top advisers over what has become known as the Plame Affair. That two of the world's most powerful men have resorted to such a role to protect their aides speaks volumes about the behind-the-scenes mastery of Mr Rove and Mr Libby. Some pundits claim that without the pair, the Bush administration would be in deep trouble; opponents argue that it is because of them that it finds itself in unprecedented difficulties. Neither is a stranger to scandal - Mr Rove, in particular, would seem to thrive on controversy. But the inquiry into whether they were behind the leaking of the name of an undercover CIA agent to get back at her husband's criticism of the war in Iraq has put them in an uncomfortably unfamiliar position: In the media spotlight instead of behind it. Guilty or not, the manner in which Valerie Plame's identity was revealed to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in 2003 soon after her former ambassador husband Joseph Wilson's critique appeared in The New York Times would not be considered an especially unusual tactic for either to have carried out. Mr Rove, 55 on December 25, has a track record liberally spattered with such types of incidents. Since the age of nine, after all, he has been a political animal and such matters are the stuff of American politics. At that age, during the 1960 US presidential election, he decided to support Republican Richard Nixon over the Democrats' John Kennedy. Recalling the decision to an interviewer, Mr Rove said: 'There was a little girl across the street who was Catholic and found out I was for Nixon and she was avidly for Kennedy. She put me down on the pavement and whaled on me and gave me a bloody nose. I lost my first political battle.' If biographers are to be believed, that incident not only blooded him for a career in directing the election campaigns of Republican politicians, but humiliated him to thereafter opt for a win-at-all-costs mentality. Incidents they have chronicled - which he has generally denied - include bugging his own office to garner sympathy votes for a candidate; circulating gossip in deeply conservative parts of the state of Texas that then governor Ann Richards had lesbians on her staff; using racist innuendo by suggesting in television advertisements that Mr Bush's rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, John McCain, had fathered an illegitimate black child; and being behind rumours questioning the Vietnam war record of 2004 Bush presidential opponent John Kerry. Mr Rove has admitted that as a student in 1970, he used a fake identity to enter the campaign office of Democrat Alan Dixon, who was running for Illinois state treasurer, and stole 1,000 sheets of letterhead paper on which he had printed, 'Free Beer, Free Food, Girls and a Good Time For Nothing'. Mr Dixon was elected despite the stunt and Mr Rove in 1999 admitted to the Dallas Morning News that it was a youthful 'prank' he regretted. Dirty tricks are not unusual to observers of politics, in the US or elsewhere; the incidents Mr Rove has been linked to, though, are a bit closer to the foul line than are usually tolerated. Born in Colorado, he lived in Utah and Nevada before, like Mr Bush, adopting Texas as his home. Although having attended half a dozen universities, he has never graduated, opting instead in 1971 to become a full-time political campaigner. Mr Rove's connections to the Bush family go back to 1973, when Mr Bush's father was chairman of the Texas Republican Party and he was elected to head the College Republicans. Mr Bush Snr hired Mr Rove to help him win the presidential nomination in 1980, but 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. In 1999, he ran the younger Bush's successful 2000 presidential bid. Known by some Washington insiders as 'Bush's brain', he is widely thought to have convinced Mr Bush to give up his career as an oil company executive to run - successfully - for the Texas governorship in 1993. Not only did Mr Rove engineer the victory, but he reprised it four years later - as he did in winning the president a second term in the White House last year. Although having a less colourful background, Mr Libby, also 55, is no less politically savvy. He started his government career in the State Department in 1981 and has since worked with the Department of Defence and House of Representatives, where he was a legal adviser to the select committee on national security and military/commercial concerns with China, known as the Cox Committee. He has also worked for the American Bar Association, the Rand Corporation think-tank and been the managing partner of a Washington law firm. His nickname 'Scooter' is said to have been given to him as a baby by his father. Seeing his son move quickly across his crib, he exclaimed: 'He's a scooter!' From a privileged background, he attended the exclusive Phillips Academy in Massachusetts before going to Yale University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1972, and Columbia University, where he earned his law degree in 1975. One of his professors at Yale was Paul Wolfowitz, now the head of the World Bank, but a long-time Republican Party stalwart. As a protege of Mr Wolfowitz - a deputy defence secretary in George W. Bush's administration - Mr Libby became allied with the hard-line, right-wing neo-conservative movement. As a founding member of the neo-conservative-associated Project for the New American Century, he joined forces with some of the leading lights of the Bush administration. Part of their doctrine was pre-emptive military action, formulated long before Mr Bush opted for such a decision to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in March 2003. Mr Libby has such a sway over Mr Cheney that he is widely known as 'Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney'. Since becoming the vice-president's chief of staff, though, he has come under fire on several fronts, most scathingly for allegedly being behind discredited claims used to build the case for the war in Iraq and defending billionaire financier Mark Rich, convicted of fraud, but pardoned by former Democrat president Bill Clinton. But that criticism pales beside the furore he finds himself in now over the Plame scandal. Whatever the fate of Mr Rove and Mr Libby in light of their latest controversy, there is one certainty - their loyalty to the Republicans means that their careers with the party are far from over.