Sarah Chayes

United States

“Why did nearly half of Iraq open itself to Islamic State, a militant group seen as one of the most psychotic on record? Why have Boko Haram militants gained a solid foothold in northern Nigeria? Why aren’t the ranks of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula thinning, despite regular drone strikes in Yemen? Do these disparate countries have some trait in common? They do: the rampant corruption of their ruling elites.”

Senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of award-winning and critically acclaimed Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security

Sarah Chayes is an international authority on corruption and its causes. Her work explores how it exacerbates international crises such as terrorism, revolutions and their violent aftermaths, and environmental degradation.

Before joining Carnegie, she served as special assistant to the top U.S. military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. She participated in Cabinet-level decision-making on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Arab Spring, traveling with Mullen frequently to these regions. He tapped Chayes for the job after her work as special advisor to two commanders of the international troops in Afghanistan (ISAF). She contributed her unique knowledge of the Afghan south to the ISAF command.

It was a sense of historic opportunity that prompted Chayes to renounce her journalism career in early 2002, after covering the fall of the Taliban for National Public Radio, and to remain in Afghanistan to help rebuild the country. She chose to settle in the former Taliban heartland, Kandahar.

In 2005, Chayes founded Arghand, a start-up manufacturing cooperative, where men and women working together produce fine skin-care products. ( The goal was to revive the region’s historic role in exporting fruit and its derivatives, to promote sustainable development, and expand alternatives to the opium economy. Running Arghand in downtown Kandahar proved to an extraordinary vantage point for observing the unfolding war.

From 1996-2001, Chayes was NPR Paris correspondent. For her work during the Kosovo crisis, she shared the 1999 Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards.

Along with Thieves of State, which won the 2016 L.A. Times Book Prize, Chayes is is the author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (Penguin, 2006).

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