Homeland Security Secretary Visits March Air Reserve Base

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge promised additional resources to the nation's top surveillance center at March Air Reserve Base.

Ridge visited the base and met with officials at the center, which tracks suspicious aircraft, but he did not offer specifics.

The center is supposed to have 60 people working for it but has only 38 providing 24-hour surveillance. It monitors about 80,000 flights a month and can quickly dispatch law enforcement officers around the country to intercept a suspicious aircraft, officials said.

``We will do everything we can within the resources we've been allocated by the government of the United States to make sure it's fully, effectively staffed,'' Ridge said during a news conference after his tour. ``That's all I can tell you.''

Congress is considering allocating additional money to help hire air traffic monitors looking for drug smugglers, undocumented immigrants and terrorist threats from northern Mexico to Canada.

The center was established in 1988 to track drug smugglers in the western United States. It's duties were later expanded.

The Santa Barbara News-Press reported that Ridge was in town to attend a conference and was joined by executives from Hewlett-Packard and other firms. The nature of the conference was not immediately disclosed.

Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has been an unofficial private-sector adviser to the department.