Sarah Chayes

Senior Associate
Democracy and Rule of Law Program
South Asia Program
tel +1 202 939 2265
Chayes, formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations.


MA, Islamic History, Harvard University


Arabic; English; French; Pashtu


Sarah Chayes is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. Formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations. She is working on correlations between acute public corruption and the rise of militant extremism.

A former reporter, she covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR, then left journalism to remain in Kandahar in order to contribute to the reconstruction of the country, living there almost continuously since December 2001. After running a nongovernmental organization founded by President Karzai’s brother Qayum, Chayes launched a manufacturing cooperative that produces skin-care products for export from licit local agriculture. The goals were to help revive the region’s historic role in exporting fruit and its derivatives, promote sustainable development, and expand alternatives to the opium economy. Deeply embedded in the life of the city and fluent in Pashtu, Chayes gained a unique perspective on the unfolding war.

In 2009, she was tapped to serve as special adviser to Generals David McKiernan and Stanley McChrystal, commanders of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). She contributed her unique understanding of the Afghan south to the decisionmaking process, built ISAF’s anticorruption policy, and assisted the U.S. embassy in developing an integrated approach to Afghan kleptocracy. In 2010, Chayes became special adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, contributing to strategic policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arab Spring.

Chayes is author of Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015) and The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (Penguin Press HC, 2006). She is a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times opinion section, and her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, among other publications.

  • Article April 14, 2016
    The Cost of Corruption in Honduras

    The murder of a Honduran activist should be raising alarms about the implications of government corruption that has appeared in recent years.

  • Op-Ed Defense One February 16, 2016
    Start Preparing for the Collapse of the Saudi Kingdom

    Saudi Arabia is no state at all. It could best be described as a political enterprise with a clever but ultimately unsustainable business model, or as so corrupt as to resemble a vertically and horizontally integrated criminal organization.

  • ISF Forces Fighting ISIL
    Interview World Policy Journal February 12, 2016
    Corruption and Extremism: From Recognition to Response

    With corruption deeply embedded into the fabric of governance in many countries around the world, confronting corrupt networks will necessitate a sea change in government priorities.

  • Op-Ed Defense One January 13, 2016
    The Right Way to Fight Boko Haram—and How the U.S. Should Help

    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari should make his anticorruption agenda central to his campaign against Boko Haram.

  • Bulgaria is a victim of mafia government protester
    Voice of America, Khmer October 27, 2015
    Understanding Corrupt Governments as Criminal Networks

    Corrupt governments act as vertically integrated criminal organizations to maximize corrupt profits and use the judiciary to ensure impunity.

  • Interview Huffington Post October 3, 2015
    Why Afghanistan Is Going to Fall to the Taliban Again. And It’s Not Why You Think

    The Taliban’s successes in and around Kunduz are the almost inevitable consequence of corrupt and abusive governance.

  • Paper September 30, 2015 Full Text
    The Oil Curse: A Remedial Role for the Oil Industry

    The political and economic dysfunction known as the “oil curse” is a complex, structural phenomenon, caused largely by poor management or investment of oil revenues by the governments of oil-producing countries.

  • Corruption in Afghanistan
    Interview E-International Relations September 30, 2015
    Characteristics and Causes of Global Corruption

    All cases of acute corruption exemplify three traits: whole governments structured around the objective of maximizing corrupt profits, enormous sums of money, and clear victims of such abuse.

  • Afghanistan money changing
    TEDx FultonStreet September 20, 2015
    How Government Corruption is a Precursor to Extremism

    Corruption and international security have been intertwined throughout history, from the Protestant Reformation to modern day Afghanistan.

  • Interview Center for International Private Enterprise July 21, 2015
    On Corruption and Security

    Donor agencies and Western investors need to think harder about who they’re doing business with and expand their notions of corporate social responsibility to encompass potential responsibility for reinforcing kleptocratic governments.

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