Sarah Chayes

Sarah Chayes’s remarkable trajectory has led her from reporting from Paris for National Public Radio and covering the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, to running a soap factory in downtown Kandahar in the midst of a reigniting insurgency. She went on to advise the topmost levels of the U.S. military, serving as special adviser to two commanders of the international forces in Kabul, and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. She left the Pentagon for a five-year stint at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she extracted the broadly relevant core from those experiences.

Internationally recognized for her innovative thinking on corruption and its implications, she has uncovered the unrecognized reality that severe and structured corruption can prompt international crises, such as revolutions and other uprisings, violent insurgency, and environmental devastation. Corruption of this sort is the operating system of sophisticated networks, which weave together government officials, business magnates and private charities, and out and out criminals, and represents, in Sarah’s view, the primary threat to democracy in our lifetimes.

Sarah is the author of ON CORRUPTION IN AMERICA: And What Is at Stake, THE PUNISHMENT OF VIRTUE: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban, and THIEVES OF STATE: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security – the L.A. Times Book Prize winner that inspired Steven Soderbergh’s film, The Laundromat.

ON CORRUPTION IN AMERICA draws alarming parallels between some of the most corrupt countries in the world and our own. It exposes the tradition of systemic corruption from America’s Gilded Age through present day, how it affects every level of society and threatens the future of democracy. “If you want to save America, this might just be the most important book to read now.” – Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains

Sarah’s writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Foreign Policy and Defense One. She is the recipient of Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards.

Speaking topics include endemic corruption; America’s role in the global community; the modern “value” of money; ethics in business and government; and social responsibility.

Sarah Chayes

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“Both right and left revile ‘the swamp,’ but Sarah Chayes is the first to provide a compelling–to say nothing of brave–account of how sophisticated self-dealing networks of every stripe are rigging the rules and poisoning our politics. If you want to save America, [On Corruption in America] might just be the most important book to read now.” –Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains

“Every now and then, a book changes the way you see the world. It’s like shaking a kaleidoscope and suddenly all the bits and pieces fall into a new pattern. Sarah Chayes’s Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security shook my kaleidoscope.” – Rebecca Gordon, The Nation

“I can’t imagine a more important book for our time.” – Sebastian Junger

“Sarah Chayes weaves together history, adventure, political analysis, personal experience, culture, and religion in a shimmering and compelling tapestry.” – Anne-Marie Slaughter

“Sarah Chayes provides a vivid, ground-level view on how pervasive corruption undermines U.S. foreign policy and breeds insurgency.  Thieves of State provides critical lessons that all policymakers should heed.” – Francis Fukuyama

“[A] fascinating story. . . .Chayes argues, convincingly, [that state-sanctioned larceny is] a threat not just to Afghanistan’s national security but to that of the United States.” -Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker

“Sarah Chayes brilliantly illuminates a topic no one wants talk about―but we must. Corruption is an insidious force that is causing some of the most dangerous challenges our world is facing. It has to be at the core of America’s strategies, engagements and relationships for the twenty-first century.” – Admiral (ret.) Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Books, Films & Projects


Sarah Chayes explains what happens when money is the measure of social worth.

Sarah Chayes at the Westminster Town Hall Forum Lecture Series.

Sarah Chayes keynotes at the Integrity 20 conference.

CBC News: Sarah Chayes on what will happen now in Afghanistan


Sarah Chayes’s newest book is ON CORRUPTION IN AMERICA: And What is at Stake. Read an excerpt, listen to a sample, and order your copy here.

Inside the Hive with Nick Bilton: Inside the 9/11 Coverup Worse Than Ukraine: Filmmakers Steven Soderbergh and Scott Burns talk about their new movie, The Laundromat, and the book that inspired the screenplay – Sarah Chayes’s THIEVES OF STATE – in this episode of Vanity Fair’s podcast.