Sarah Chayes

An expert on the dynamics of severe corruption, Chayes lived for most of a decade in Kandahar, Afghanistan, before serving as special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She now researches the role of corruption in driving security crises.

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 Timesopinion section, and her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, among other publications.